Family

Ephesians 1:3-12 (NRSV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

It’s all about family with God.  We are all beloved children of God.  Blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed, lavished. The main theme of Ephesians is the Church, which is the body of Christ and it should be a family no matter what.  With family you can be your best self or your worst self, but they still have to let you in!

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” —Jane Howard

Family is your people.  Your tribe.  The ones in your corner.  Even more so, the body of Christ, the Church, is your family on super strength with super powered vitamins because it has Jesus as our core unifier.

Verses 3-14 are all a single sentence in the original Greek and in that sentence Paul uses seven action verbs to help us discover everything that God has done to give us an identity as God’s children. Blessed (v. 3), Chosen (v. 4), Destined (v. 5), Bestowed (v. 6), Lavished (v. 7), Made known (v. 9) and Gather up (v. 10).   Each of those verbs are designed to be the markers of being one of God’s beloved children.

One of the church’s most limiting and debilitating myths is that “holiness” pertains exclusively to individuals — as though holiness were the product of a solitary spiritual journey. Listen again to the words of thanksgiving and blessing the writer uses in the text “… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v.4). Who did God choose to be “in Christ”? Individuals yes, but individuals in community. We are called to be a holy church, a holy apostolic church functioning as Christ’s bodily presence here on earth, a HOLY FAMILY.
A holy, apostolic church exhibits three clear-cut values that keep the body healthy and growing in holiness: It must make disciples; it must mark disciples; it must mature disciples.

This is why once a disciple is made, the church must mark the members of its community. A marked disciple bears the “marks” of a living body of Christ.  In Greek these are known as didache-diakonia, koinonia, martyria, and kerygma. First, are we a teaching-serving community of disciples? Second, are we a fellowshipping community? Third are we a bread-breaking and broken-body community? Fourth are we a praying community?  It’s all about relationship and community!

Making and marking disciples for participation in the holy community of the church is still not enough. Jesus called his followers, making them disciples. He then journeyed with them all over the countryside, teaching them, fellowshipping with them, breaking bread with them and praying with them. All these activities were forward looking, pointing towards the creation of mature disciples, able to stand firm in the faith.

The body of Christ looks forward to the future and meets the challenges of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing, always-longing world. But for those already feeling insecure about the ground they stand on, the future looks like a scary place. Mature disciples, well-grounded in the bedrock of a holy community, don’t need to stand fearfully rooted to one spot. We can be an active body of love, mercy, truth and justice.  Mature disciples know that the shape and the face of the church can change, as long as at the heart of this holy family is Jesus.

Mike and I went to the Goodbye Road Tour in Savannah on Tuesday night.  It was headlined by “Johnnyswim” and “Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors” with special guests “Penny & Sparrow.”

In the wake of the racially charged events at Charlottesville, the loss of rock icon Tom Petty (who was a huge influence on Drew Holcomb), and the heartbreaking attack upon an audience of music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas; Johnnyswim, Drew Holcomb, and the guys of Penny & Sparrow wrote and recorded the EP “Goodbye Road.”*

They began the show by saying, “We don’t care how you voted, we don’t care about what you think on this or that, you’re family here.  The family that sings together, stays together.”   

In an interview Holcomb says of the husband-and-wife team behind Johnnyswim, “One of the things I’ve always loved about Abner and Amanda’s writing, is that it dives into the dark parts of humanity, but still comes out of that darkness with hope and light. When we were recording these songs, it was a hard moment. There was a lot happening in the world, and we felt a mutual sorrow about it, but we also shared the belief that sorrow didn’t have to be the entirety of the story.”

“It was three days after the political rallies in Charlottesville,” Abner remembers. “When we wrote ‘Ring the Bells,’ we were all sitting in the same room, thinking, ‘Enough is enough. We want to scream something into the world, but how do we make it productive?’ In that moment of agony and tension — the very moment you’re tempted to be hopeless — you can choose to give in to those dark feelings or rise above them. ‘Ring the Bells’ is our productive shout.”

They had us sing the simple word, “Family” throughout the show.  I’m speaking for myself, it had a huge impact on me, we shared this collective experience, this shared belief, this shared hope and isn’t that what family is at its heart?

They ended the show with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and the family of God, our family of misfits and radicals and sometimes semi-complacent Christ followers, won’t back down.  I had tears streaming down my face, standing in my family, the body of Christ, the Church, that Ephesians writes so eloquently about.  It reminds me of Lauren Daigle song “O Lord” when she writes “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.”  I will stand my ground where hope can be found.  We are making, marking and maturing disciples and we have the solid ground of Christ to stand on.  We don’t have to stand alone.  We can stand TOGETHER.  In our family.  God’s family.  And trust me, from Lauren Daigle’s own lips: “O’Lord O’Lord I know You hear my cry//Your love is lifting me above all the lies//No matter what I face This I know in time//You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right.”  God’s got this.  Even when it seems darkest, God will SHOW up.  Jesus will leave the 99 and come to our rescue.  The Holy Spirit will always make a way.  It may not look like what we want it to, it may have us walk through sludge and muck, it may not be on our time table, but God is going to do a MIGHTY thing in and through us.  We just have to be obedient to God’s call on our lives.  We need to be obedient to God’s mark on our lives.  We need to have the spiritual maturity to roll with the punches and keep our forbearance, tenacity and integrity.

The force that binds us together is stronger than the force that drives us apart.

You are not forgotten.

You are not alone.

David Ogden Stiers says“Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” No one gets left behind or forgotten.  NO ONE. We are family and a strong, growing family at that!  And that’s what’s great about family, there’s always room for one more at the table…

***That ends the sermon.  Church pay attention – the audience was multi-generational and they were singing every word with feeling and passion.  We started listening to this album over spring break.  Actually, my husband Mike became obsessed with it.  He said they are singing what we’ve been feeling.  I surprised him for his birthday and our 16th wedding anniversary with a trip to see them live in concert in Savannah.  It was truly an emotional, uplifting, Holy Spirit experience.  We were coming together, young and old, all colors, as a family.  We were so encouraged and I’ll wager everybody was encouraged who was there.  There is a Christian culture humming here.  And Church, we need to listen.  I felt the Holy Spirit moving us to a place of solidarity and I’ve taken that with me in all the places, with all the people, and with all the the news, everywhere … the family that sings together, stays together.  Amen!

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Goodbye Road

Jimmy Kimmel Live – Ring the Bells

Some of “Won’t Back Down”

 

Some of “Ring the Bell”

Here We Go Again.

In December I had an appointment with my neurosurgeon in Charlotte and since it was the last day of classes here and was a 7 hour drive, I decided to cancel it and find a neurosurgeon here in Gainesville.  I didn’t make this decision lightly and I looked up all sorts of things about the awesome program here and I asked around to a number of people.  I saw my new neurosurgeon for the first time on Valentine’s Day (ha!).  He ordered an MRI to be done the Monday after our spring break trip to Costa Rica (March 11th).  On Tuesday, March 19th while Mike and I ate lunch with Evy, the nurse called and said that the doctor recommended surgery.  She then set an appointment for me to talk to him about this for today, March 28th.

Mike and I of course called our parents.  I didn’t want to say anything about this before we knew anything, but needless to say, we’ve been pretty distracted this past week and because I try to be a reasonably transparent person, it was hard to preach on Palm Sunday or for either of us to function without a twinge of something always in the background.  My parents came to visit last night so that Mom could go with us to the appointment and Dad being the great MacMac that he is, could hang out with the kids this morning since they’re on spring break.

Three years have passed since the first surgery.  To review, my doctor in Charlotte removed what he could of the tumor but left a strip near the motor cortex of the brain.  The type of tumor I have is an oligodendroglioma and very thankfully it’s a grade II (low grade).  At the time, research and common practice said that you take a watch and wait perspective and treat symptoms.  Now, research says that you resect as much as you can of the tumor so that it does not increase in grade.  They will use computer guidance to make sure that they are as precise as possible in removing as much as they can of the tumor that remains.  All of the risks associated with brain surgery are still at play here (duh.), but even more than that, because this is on my motor cortex, there could be temporary weakness in my right arm, hand and face.  As he said, scenario A is much like the first surgery – I come in on Friday and have surgery, I go home on Sunday, and I go back to work on Wednesday (this is also because I’m a crazy person that likes to work – yes, I know).  Scenario B is I go into surgery on Friday, hopefully still leave on Sunday depending on some things, go back to work in two weeks, and then possibly do physical therapy and rehab for a month.  If removing as much of the tumor as possible gives me a higher means of this not turning into something worse, I’m willing to risk either scenario.  The doctor’s suggestion is to take the “earliest elective opportunity” to do the surgery.

I’ve decided to do the surgery in May – most likely either May 10th or May 17th.  What does this mean for our family?  The kids were 1 and just turning 3 when the first surgery happened so they thought Mommy was on a trip of some sort.  They’re 4 and 5 now so we’ll be handling things a little differently.  They’ll still be in school so that should help.  I am blessed with an incredible extended family….and in essence I consider y’all a part of that as well.  Mike has been an absolute rock in all of this and I can’t begin to thank him for living out the weight of our vows every day.  The irony of asking him today – do you want to have the surgery around our 11th anniversary (May 11th) or around your 34th birthday (May 16th)?  I know that God is with us and will provide – whether that’s within the surgery, recovery, sanity, financially or us trying to squeeze in two more days at Disney before June 6th when our passes expire =0).  I’m also looking at the beginning of May so that I can be present for all of the end of semester fun, but before things ramp back up for summer.  I didn’t plan on a surgery during my first year here in Gainesville, but I know that there’s an amazing staff, student leaders and board here and we’ll be good to go.  As always, I’m pretty open with questions – so if you have one, ask me.  I also tend to use the blog to process and answer things as I can. (Don’t be afraid.  I’m not “broken” or an invalid, and I’m still the same person.  Human as can be, but trying to figure it out….so ask, don’t just wonder.)

As soon as I get the actual date of the surgery, I’ll definitely post it and I will hugely appreciate all of your prayers!

So all that to say, I don’t have any big actual blog “reflection” tonight.  We just completed the Maundy Thursday service and I’m pretty spent at this point, which I guess is just about right with Good Friday coming tomorrow.  I am increasingly struck this Easter season that there’s no fast forward button between Palm Sunday with the Hosannas and Easter.  I also appreciated a song that my parent’s sent me when I told them this last week.  It’s Tenth Avenue North’s “Worn.”  Hope that during this Holy Week we are reminded of our redemption, peace and hope in Christ in the midst of the sometimes dark despair.

For those visual people out there that want to pray over an image….rock on.

Image

Everything I Learned From Soap Operas

My grandmother was a long time devotee to soap operas. Some of my earliest memories of spending time with her had us playing, making cakes, and running errands, but it never failed that in the afternoon, we were going to sit down to watch her “stories.” When I was younger it was the Bold and the Beautiful, Young and the Restless, As the World Turns and Guiding Light. As I grew older she still faithfully watched As the World Turns and as she called it THE Guiding Light. It was something that she and I shared and throughout high school early release or in college or on holidays or breaks or sick days, I tuned in. You definitely don’t have to watch every day to know that Josh and Reva are still together or Carly and Jack were hitting another rough patch.

I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t enjoy soap operas and think it’s cliche to watch them. I would then ask you if you watch Revenge or Gossip Girl or The Good Wife or any other tv drama, because it’s pretty much the same thing with just a little less crazy.

Ganny started listening to As the World Turns and the Guiding Light when it was on the radio and she could tell me all of the characters family histories and back stories back when they read the Bible and prayed on air. Even though I only watched sporadically, I would look at that little soap magazine headlines as I waited in the checkout line and when we would talk on the phone or I would see her for an extended visit, I would always check in on the story lines. 1. because I wanted to know and 2. she really enjoyed and got excited telling the stories. Who doesn’t want to know the latest with the heroes and the villains of the show?

So what did I learn from watching soap operas? The first thing I learned is that you might as well go ahead and tell the truth, because if not, it will be dragged out for close to a year and there will be lots of angst and drama and if you had just told the truth to begin with, oh my golly, you would have saved a lot of time and plotting. The truth always gets found out eventually, whether it’s in the next episode, a couple months down the road, or years later when in crazy soap opera fashion someone comes back to life or the true paternity is revealed. In friendships, in relationships, as I’m working with students and colleagues – I know I’m better off even if I’ve royally messed up to just go ahead and come clean, apologize, and take the repercussions. I know this would wipe out a ton of story lines and what would soaps be without good drama, but wow it would make much more sense and things would work out better for the characters. Well, except the villains.

I learned that you always need some sort of sidekick or someone helping you along the way. When you go all vigilante on someone and you have no back up, you should just hang it up. Everyone needs a confidante or someone on their team. That’s the only way your plans are going to actually happen if you’re the villain, and that’s the only way you’re going to stay strong, safe, and sane if you’re not. I’m an avid watcher of Once Upon A Time (love it and that some of the LOST writers are writing it) and although I know they have to draw out all of these stories or it would be a nicely written movie and not a tv show, I still think Emma, the main character, needs some sort of ally. She has some allies right now, but no one to share her story and passion with that’s not also morally compromised or a kid or someone already distracted by their own stuff. But then again, that’s life. The ones who journey with us, our allies, are usually in the midst of their own story arch and sometimes they, like the people in our shows, have their own motives and agendas. That’s the importance of surrounding yourself with those you trust, who know you, who like the quote says, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you” when you’ve lost your way. We all need those people. We need that community. It’s a powerful thing watching those kinds of friendships unfold and it’s such a treasured gift.

The third thing I learned from watching soap operas is how important stories are. I can talk up and down the countryside about words and thoughts and catch phrases or whatever, but what often resounds with others is a story. The thing that I most liked about my Dad’s sermons growing up is the stories that he would use. I remember a lot of the points he would make, but much of that memory has to do with the stories that he told that helped me make that connection. There’s a different part of us that awakens with story. Maybe that’s the English major in me creeping out but there’s something that grabs our attention and opens our mind when we start in story mode. I can see it when I preach or when others preach, we know the cadence of the voice and the way the beginning of a story goes and even if we’ve zoned out before, our ears perk up when it’s story time. It can take us to another place. It can teach us things without having to beat them over our heads. It makes us think about things differently from different view points. The stories themselves are not just the important part but it’s also that awesome thing about the community sharing in the story. Part of the fun and sacred part of sharing the story with my grandmother was that we shared it. Part of the gift was asking her to explain it and update me and the interaction of that sharing. Even Josh, my brother, after seeing it on as we watched it over the years, would ask – okay, who’s Reva with now? What’s going on with so and so? It’s not that he necessarily even wanted to watch and he would often be exasperated when he did, but there’s something that drew you in and because Ganny loved them, it was pretty contagious.

What do we learn from our stories? What makes us who we are? How have we shared our stories with others? What does story have to do with our faith? I would argue that much of our scripture is story. It’s chock full of them. And I often think that we understand those better than some of the exposition. Jesus didn’t often preach. A lot of them time, he told stories. There’s just something about it that connects to a deep part of us. And I think that’s because when it all boils down, we are all human. As different the time or context or drama level, there’s always an essence of the human condition that is shared between each of us. As my Dad says, “There’s nothing original about original sin” and there’s nothing original about people lying, stretching the truth, trying to cover something up, or being found out. In big and small ways, we watch these things because it’s our life too. Not with the Grayson’s on the Hamptons, but in that we’re all searching for meaning and joy and hope and what we’re supposed to do with our lives or who we’re supposed to be with.

The thing that makes us as people of faith different, is that we have someone that’s always on our side. Not saying that we can do whatever we want and there’s not consequences, but there’s someone who is seeking to offer us the most beautiful story just for us. Someone who is guiding and leading us in all that we do, not just on the good days, but on the bad days as well. That’s pretty powerful and a little scary at the same time. It means that we can take comfort and confidence and reassurance but it also means that we don’t have some grand giant excuse to go running around like crazy people on soap operas. We make some pretty big mistakes, but we know that coming up with a master plan to cover them up doesn’t change that we know the truth, God knows the truth, and whatever mistake we’ve made will only make us stronger and more open to others as we realize our own weaknesses.

My grandmother passed away in the beginning of September and Guiding Light went off the air a week later and As the World Turns the year after that. I know she would love Revenge and would be very interested in how this new Dallas is going to turn out. I have no doubt that she’s still listening and watching her “stories,” and I’m thankful that she passed on this love of stories to me.

Why do you think stories connect with us so much? What are ways that we can open ourselves to God’s story swirling all around us?

** By the way – tidbit – Guiding Light ran from 1937 to 2009 and is credited by Guinness as the longest running drama in television.

The Last Word

Winthrop Wesley celebrated Advent early this year fitting in with the college calendar and so my sense of which Sunday we’re on in Advent is all out of whack.  I had never done this before but a campus ministry friend told me about it and I thought we could give it a shot.  It amaze me how much it fit to talk about Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love around exam season with lots of papers, projects, and tests looming, some people ready to be home while others dread it, and all of the highs and lows of community – those ready to hurl their roommate and that want to squeeze out every drop of time with their friends before leaving for the break.

On our last night together, we looked at the candle of LOVE and talked about the last word.  We may pile up all sorts of opinions and points in our argument or debate, but in the end, with Jesus, love is the last word of all – God’s love for us, for all the world, and all of creation.  During this season talking about the last word has a lot of connotations for me.  For some, we wonder if we’ll ever get the last word on anything.  Things seem a bit out of control with questions about work or family or bills or the future or health.  It often doesn’t feel like we get a say in anything and we’re merely reacting to what happens, instead of setting the course. 

For others, we think of some of our friends or family or co-workers or maybe even ourselves as ones who thrive with having that last word and can’t imagine life without getting it.  I think of the television show Modern Family and the hilarity that ensued during the holiday episode this year between the “Realists” and the “Dreamers.”  But as the episode pointed out, you need a little bit of both.  We need each other – both realists and dreamers.  We have ones who are ready to concede the argument and ones that will fight to the bitter end trying to get the last word – but we all need to be somewhere in the middle.  We shouldn’t bowl over just because we’re “Christians” and let people walk and talk all over us, but we also shouldn’t be the ones that are raising to the loudest voice so that our point can be heard over all the masses not caring about the casualties that may surround us.

As some of you know, my brother Josh, is the rebel in our family.  I don’t think he has a corner deal on this and we’re all the rebel at times over such things, but in the delicious rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson, he’s the lone Clemson tiger.  Y’all know things have gotten a little tricky these past weeks with that rivalry and I’m not going to even begin to talk about the game, the history, the record, who said what, or who’s got the better mascot, because it sure as heck is not worth all of the angst and passion and pride that we all put into it.  Josh is not the most die-hard and orange Clemson  fan and I’m not the most die-hard and garnet Gamecock fan, so we can probably have this conversation easier than some of the hot heads, but let’s just say there’s been some thought-provoking discussion over football and faith and where in the world pastors and people of faith should fall on these topics and how they should present themselves not just in “real life” but on facebook and twitter as well.  You can go round and round and as people start trying to throw grenades at each other trying to get the last word, it feels like nobody wins.  That’s what I like and am challenged by in debating with Josh.  Neither one of us wants to give in and both of us have the natural tendency to want to get that last word in, but we also take our faith seriously and we don’t want to unduly hurt the other person or slam the other “side.”  Does that mean that there’s no time that we don’t get angry or want to rail at the other person?  No.  But it does mean that we hold each other accountable not just to our conversation and “the facts” as we think we see them, but also to the core values that we share.  It drives me crazy but it’s also something that I rely on and am challenged by as we can call each other out!

In this Advent season, it’s important to realize that the One who holds the real last word  – not just to some football rivalry or presidential debate or late night talk show snaffoo, but to all things – is the One who’s coming that we celebrate and await for the second time during this Advent season.  In the fourth Sunday of Advent I really love all the texts.  I know I’m biased – I love Advent in general, but I really like that all the texts are talking about God being with us and the impossible happening and Holy mysteries and saying yes even when things look far-fetched and unlikely.  Love it! (Oh I should probably tell you what they are – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:46b-55, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38)

You may be wondering where in the heck did I get the last word from that?  I didn’t mention any revelation passages.  A couple of things.  The first in verse 33 talking about Jesus, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  The second in verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  There is no end to his kingdom.  He will have the last word, not in a Jesus juke kind of way, but in a beautiful, Christ-like, kingdom of God, eternal life kind of way….it really does mean eternal after all.  I love verse 37 too because it’s not saying nothing is impossible for God or in God even though those can be true as well, but nothing is impossible with God.  If we go to God with these things that trouble us, these things that we wrestle with, these things that drive us crazy or make us beyond impassioned, than with God we can find a way to be those Christ-like people in the world.  With God we can be the Jesus that the world sees and knows.  With God we don’t have to worry about the last word or who holds the speaking stick, because it’s not us and it’s not them, it’s the one who created us and who is creating all things new.

I fight for the last word more often than you probably know and some of you know me well.  It gets on my nerves when people talk down to people or about a book or a movie or a cause act like know it all’s.  And there’s a part of me that than wants to say – well more figuratively – I want to blow them out of the water.  Now again, I don’t believe that “Christians” just sit back on their hands and close their mouths and just let the world keep spinning, quite the contrary.  However, I do know that often what I’m reacting to is my own pride or my own issues.  Hello intramural basketball!  That’s the other thing that’s critical in this with God idea.  If we’re speaking with God, if we’re living our lives with God, if we’re juggling all of our demands with God, than for some reason I think that we’ll live our lives differently than if we just go it alone with our own sense of righteousness and justice.  Because I don’t know about you, but for me, there are times I can look back in conversations or experiences and I know it wasn’t God – it was me, going it alone, and spinning out.  But if we are with God, then nothing is impossible.  Not worries about family or friends or work or what we’re going to do with our lives or how we should spend our money or who we need to seek forgiveness or how we’re going to let our lights shine. 

So as I think about the holidays and all of the parties and the family and times of conversation and fun that are coming and I know, knowing our family and friends that things will be said with humor and love but always a little controversy and fun with so many folks and different ideas, may we realize and know that there are promises and mysteries during this Advent and that God’s kingdom will reign forever and we can be apart of that knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that we don’t have to carry all of the world’s burdens on our shoulders, but as we do the work of God, we can feel sure and certain that the last word comes from God – a God of grace and joy and hope and peace and great, great love!

For the Communion of the Saints

What are you thankful for? Over the next days/weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I’m going to try to do what many of my wise friends on facebook and other wise folks have shared – cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If all is grace, then we are thankful.

So for Day 1 on All Saints Day, I am thankful for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. These “saints” that have gone before are not just the heavy hitters like Mary or Paul or Mother Theresa. These saints encompass all of the people that have gone before us seeking to live as Christ. Some of these saints are ones that we read about in our Holy Scripture (Paul – I can’t wait to talk to you about the book of Romans after preaching on it this semester in worship – wowzers). Some are ones that we have read back and forth and still dig into their kernels of wisdom – CS Lewis, Jim Elliot, Teresa of Avila (Love Jim’s “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”). Some of these are saints that may or may not be seen as religious folks – love me some Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. Others may be the ones that we’ve personally known or been shaped by.

I think about some of the dear saints I’ve known in this life. Mr. Howard and Ms. Evelyn that we sat with as children on Sundays while Dad preached and Mom sang in the choir. Ms. Betty teaching our first and second grade Sunday school class. I still remember the felt board with the Bible characters. Mr. Tim and Ms. Bunny who proved to me that people want to minister to their minister and his/her family and they really care about each of us. There are so many that I could easily name.

I think about the saints in our family…and then I start to laugh. The thing that I love about them and any of our saints for that matter, is that they were real people – flesh and bone and not always perfect. There’s this thing about saints that we build up to be otherworldly with rose-colored glasses, but the thing that I like the most is that they were colorful characters who didn’t just do everything prim and proper perfectly, but they made a splash. They had spunk. They did not go gentle into that good night as the Dylan Thomas poem goes.

There’s stuff all over the place about paranormal activity and that crazy horror story tv show and even Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt talking to folks from the beyond and I get people’s fascination with this. Or at least I think I do. Well, not necessarily the horror/scare factor. But I do think there’s a great big part of us that wants to know for sure and for certain that we’re not alone here. There’s part of us that wants to know that our family and loved ones – both from long ago and now – dear to us – are okay and it’s going to be okay for us too. That stinking Anderson show (I watched while sick – captive audience) even had me tearing up at parts because of the sincerity of people really wanting to know that we are all connected and we stay connected and that this beautiful network of love doesn’t just stop here, but continues on.

As the seasons in South Carolina start to change for real and things are turning and getting colder and Winter is coming, I’m reminded that death is not the end. Yes, there is grief. Yes, there is change. Yes, there is loss. Yes, there are those we miss dearly. But the great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, spurs us on, and still speak to us in big and small ways. As Dad likes to share – these folks are often our “balcony people!”

As I look around my office and home to the things that I treasure – pictures with family, pictures at Ganny’s house, a beautiful picture painted by Robin, a shingle that my Gandaddy made with our pictures on it, Dad’s pottery, a “family tree” my Mom made for me….as I look into my heart to the things I treasure – both sassy grandmothers that neither minced words, had plenty of spunk, and weren’t afraid to use various words in their vocabularies, the amazing integrity and character of both of my grandfathers and the legacy for trying to love people – whoever they are, whatever color they are or accent they have, wherever their family came from…these are the gifts that the communion of saints continues to give us as we wrestle with their words, their examples, their legacies and their authentic lives of faith.

Thank you God for all of those that have touched us in such mighty ways!

Who are your saints? Who has shaped you? What do you hold dear from the ones that have gone on before us?

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

Can you hear the party of praise around us???

Held

This is the time in the semester that I am most craving time with my kids. We’re right in the middle of everything, gearing up for fall break and looking at a busy second half of the semester with…wait for it…nope, I’m not going to continue down the rabbit hole of the to do list right now.

There seems to be this innate need for contact between me and the kids. When I don’t have a Wesley gathering at night, you will find us either cuddled up on the floor of Evy’s room reading or in Mommy’s bed watching a movie or more often than not with these exhausting weeks, laying on the couch watching Peppa Pig or Backyardigans. Evy will be curled up beside me with Enoch curled up with his head on me and my arm on him. It’s a pretzel for sure, but one that it seems that we all need. As much as I can call or “face time” when I’m away or play with the kids or pick them up from school and do fun Mommy stuff with them, there’s nothing that seems to substitute for that physical touch.

Evy doesn’t want me reading a book or holding my phone, she wants me to hold her. It’s like it recharges her batteries and mine. That simple presence, that knowledge that you’re there and for that time you’re more than just priority, you’re the center of the universe.

At this time in the semester, students tend to be worn down with midterms and the changes of seasons and allergies and colds and it’s hard to balance it all. I’ve heard so many talk about feeling like God isn’t there like before or feels distant or like God’s forgotten them. I think each of us can relate to that feeling on different levels. There are those desert times or those times of disconnect or confusion or anger or that feeling of abandonment.

But then I think about Evy and Enoch. When I lay down and forget all of the other “things” on the list and I forget all of the worries of the world – I don’t care what I’m wearing or how we look or what’s happening around me, but I’m just focused on her and him. Their love and them knowing that I love them to the absolute moon and back means more than anything in this world. That’s when I feel the most attuned to them.

When are the times that we have felt held by God? In those times of feeling disconnected or lost or just tired of it all, have we taken the time to focus and center and try to reconnect – ask and receive, seek and find, knock and the door be opened? What are the things that hold us back?

Nothing separates us from the love of God. Nothing. Period. So why don’t we in the midst of the hectic or the monotonous, crawl up into the arms of God and settle in for a bit and open ourselves to the Word we will receive there? Let every worry or “but” go and just be and rest and know that our God loves you very much.

Some songs on this theme:

Time to Wake Up!

This morning Enoch slept late. On Mondays and Wednesdays he has speech at 8 am before going to preschool at 9 am so I let him sleep in until about 8:20 today before waking him up to get ready for preschool at 9. It always cracks me up to wake him up because for the most part, as soon as I open the door he’s bouncing out of bed ready to go. Now this is only when he’s slept late. If you’ve actually tried to get him up early, he’s like a walking zombie. But if you’ve let him sleep a little later and get that little bit of extra time to snuggle and stretch and enjoy life under the covers, he’s pretty ready to head out into the day.

There are few days these days that I have that extra time to sleep or snuggle into the covers mostly because Evy enjoys climbing onto the bed and jumping, snuggling, talking and pulling my eyelids up to have time to snuggle with me before it’s time to get going. 98% of the time I LOVE this and I wouldn’t trade a minute. There are 2% of times though where they’ve somehow gotten a flashlight and are shining that in my eyes to wake me up and I just am panicked and jolted out of sleep. On those days I don’t really start the day out fresh or ready to go, it feels like I’m just trying to survive to opening my eyes, getting some caffeine, getting kids dressed, and trying as much as I can to savor moments in between. Oh the life of working Mommy. Or any Mommy for that matter.

One of the verses from this morning’s Upper Room was one of my all time favorites, Matthew 11:28, “Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Maybe it says a great deal about my life and real priorities that this is a favorite. It definitely speaks to my tired self and mostly crazy hectic silly life. Although this verse speaks to me about the source of our Living Water, the one who nourishes us and provides us rest, I also think it sometimes give me a slight, tiny, little excuse to have a stressful schedule and not take very good care of myself because I have very strong faith in the God who is all sufficient. God is all sufficient and there for us in the ups and downs but that doesn’t mean we take advantage and get so caught up in the ho hum of doing life that we miss all of the joys and fun and amazingness along the way!

If I actually took time to be with God and dwell with God and got some sleep and didn’t schedule things like crazy and didn’t try to juggle all the balls in the air, I might find that my busyness is more about me and wanting to feel needed or wanting to measure up and other prideful and self-doubting things.

This morning on my lovely Pandora station, needtobreathe’s “Slumber” came on and boy I needed that. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense, but I think that sometimes the hectic routines of life seem much more like a “slumber” than actually grasping hold of life in real and transformative ways. I don’t want to be in the drone of routine and slumber, I want to experience and be open to change and to even be open to correction and accountability. I don’t want every Sunday or Monday or Thursday to look exactly the same or to be going through the motions of preaching, teaching, listening or being Mommy. I know that we do that. I know that it’s probably a magnificent coping mechanism and one that is super important when juggling, but are we going to be so zoned out that we realize we’re 6 weeks into the semester and we haven’t found our rhythm yet between work, church, family and anything in between?

It’s a challenge. Time to wake up? Or keep slumbering? Depending on God not just to provide but to also inspire, correct, and commit? Saying things out loud in sermons and studies or really putting them into practice for myself? Who does Christ call us to BE in this world, not just DO, not just pretend, not just negotiate, not just rationalize?

“Wake on up from your slumber, Come on open up your eyes”

Days they force you
Back under those covers
Lazy mornings they multiply
But glory’s waiting
Outside your window
So wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

Tongues are violent
Personal and focused
Tough to beat with
Your steady mind
But hearts are stronger after broken
So wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Take from vandals
All you want now
But please don’t trade it in for life
Replace the feeble
With the fable
Wake on up from your slumber
And open up your eyes

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Sing like we used to
Dance when you want to
Taste of the breakthrough
And open wide

All these victims
Stand in line for
The crumbs that fall from the table
Just enough to get by
All the while
Your invitation
Wake on up from your slumber
Come on open up your eyes

Sing like we used to
And dance like you want to
Open up your eyes