Posted in Cancer, Community, Healing, Love, Shelter, The City Harmonic, Uncategorized, Vulnerability

Love, Heal Me

Mike and I got turned on to the band The City Harmonic because they had their song “Mountaintop” on one of the CD’s that he gets in Worship Leader Magazine.  We immediately were fans.  I don’t know if you know this about me yet, but if I’m blasting my iTunes on the computer in my office, I’m being productive.  I’m in the groove.  I love music.   Music is one of the ways I tap into God’s voice.  Music has a way of moving you out of your own way so that you can see the kernel of truth.  We hear music.  We sing along.  We think about the words.  It taps into the deep well of our souls in a way nothing can and it can come to us in our times of need.  I remember bits of hymns or praise songs or scriptures when I’m at my most vulnerable and raw.

This morning a song from The City Harmonic came on my iTunes.  It’s called “Love, Heal Me” and it has a powerful story behind it.  One that I knew about, but I didn’t discover the youtube video until today.  As a congregation, many have been battling cancer and everyone has been touched in some way by cancer.  I know this for sure and for certain that God doesn’t cause cancer or any other disease.  God doesn’t want any of God’s children to suffer.  “Everything happens for a reason” is no where in scripture, but God working all things for good (Romans 8:28) is definitely there.  The Psalms are full of people crying out to God in grief, in anger, in desperation….and God was with each of them then and God is with each of us now, no matter what battle we face.

Eric describes his bandmates, their families and the fans coming alongside him as he journeyed through cancer.  He says, “I kept saying I can’t write this right now. I can’t say these things right now.  I believe them, but I can’t say them right now. He said (talking about lead singer Elias) I think you need to write it.  I think we just need to do it.  And in that, in and of itself, him as a brother forcing me to deal with what I was processing at the time. That’s what we’re hoping to do with our music to the larger body because the truth is, I was in a really vulnerable and raw place and it really helped to get the songs out and to state what I knew I believed and what I knew to be true even if I couldn’t feel it at the time.”

My desire is that for the Church to come alongside people, to not give cliched answers, but instead to listen, embodying love and grace for all.  I want the church to be vulnerable and raw and for that to be okay.  Jesus doesn’t call the perfect.  He calls the messy people that don’t have it all together.  Don’t worry….that’s each and every of us.  As Roberta Porter writes in her poem Transforming Love, “God wants our lives — not Sunday morning shiny, but all the fragments of our failures, shards of struggle and sin we’ve gathered, hidden, on our way.  And in Jesus’ transforming love, his willing brokenness, sacrifice, rising, our sorrow and pain become gifts to be used for others, our weakness the dwelling place for the Spirit’s strength, our broken-open lives bearers of God’s grace.”  Even those who have been turned off by the church.  Even those who are angry at God.  Even those that feel like God has forgotten them and is not listening.  The world doesn’t need all of the “right” answers, the world needs a Church that is authentically caring about each of us, loving each of us exactly where we are, taking the time to build relationships with each of us.  As we sit at the feet of the Rabbi, as we learn to be true disciples that walk the way that leads to life, may we take off our masks.  May we let the scales of stress and expectation fall away.

Most of all, let us never forget GOD IS WITH US.  Every step of the way.  Through good times and bad.  Sometimes we need our Christian community to remind us of who we are and Whose we are, for them to help us sing when we can’t make a sound, for them to lift us up when we fall.  There’s an old Irish proverb that I think exemplifies what I believe the image of Christian community to be. “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.”  It is in the shelter of each other that people live.  My prayer is that as we continue to battle whatever adversity life throws at us, we draw closer to one another and to the One whose mercies are new every day, even when it’s hard for us to believe that.

“Love, Heal Me”

I’m broken down
I’m on my knees
I’m crying out in my disease
I’m so worn down
So won’t You speak
and tell me how
You care for me?
’cause You are God
You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love, heal me
I’m broken now
Won’t always be
Yes, I’ve seen pain
I’ve seen grief
But how it fades
When I sing
These songs of love:
They help me see that
You are God
You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love heal me
And I’ll hold on
‘Cause You heal all things
Your name is Love
So Love, heal me
I’m falling down
I’m on my knees
I’m singin’ out: You’re what I need
I’m singin’ out: You’re what I need
I’m seeing now You’re here with me

“Praise The Lord”

Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord with the world on your shoulders
Praise the Lord when it seems too hard
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the long, dark night
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
Praise the Lord if you can sing it at the top of your lungs
Praise the Lord like every moment is a song to be sung
Praise the Lord: though it might take blood, sweat and tears in your eyes
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord
Won’t you praise the Lord?
There is grace for today so praise the Lord
Posted in Disciple, Discipleship, Faith, Healing, Jesus, Prayer, Uncategorized

Creativity, Faith and Healing

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

We typically invest a high level of energy and effort at the start of a relationship, to woo someone or put our best foot forward. But, after a time in relationship with someone — once all your good stories and jokes have been shared, once it feels like you’ve learned all there is to learn, once it feels like you’ve got nothing new to say — that takes a persistent creativity. To reinvent ourselves for one another, or to approach each other with fresh eyes, to not take each other for granted, it all takes creativity. The same is true in how we relate to God. The Centurion’s faith is a great example because, as a Roman military commander, he should’ve been the last person on earth to believe in Jesus. Rationally, he should’ve been the last person to ever have a strong relationship with the local Jews and synagogue; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to humble himself to this wandering Jewish rabbi in Jesus; rationally, he should’ve been the last person to have this special insight into Jesus’ power and authority (to be able to command this healing even from afar). The Centurion represents that even though we must be obedient as disciples, it doesn’t mean we check our insights, experiences, and ideas at the door. Guided by the Spirit, we can personally, creatively and with humility understand and relate to the Lord.  Being in the making as a disciple takes creativity.

Where is this in Luke’s narrative and what are these sayings Luke alludes to?  Luke 6 is chock full of teachings.  It is a rich smorgasbord of Jesus’ disciples eating grain on the Sabbath, then the Pharisees hating on them about that, Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, the Pharisees calling him out about that, but he did it anyway and they were (not surprisingly) furious and that’s just the first 11 verses.  After he names the disciples, verses 17-19 say, “He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”

So the centurion had heard about Jesus and, no doubt, about the miracles he had performed in the town, like healing a man with an unclean spirit right there in the synagogue for which the centurion himself had given a lot of money. The centurion was likely a commander in the army of Herod Antipas rather than a Roman soldier. We can infer this since Capernaum was a minor trade center and toll station along the Via Maris, which was the trade route that led from the countries in the Fertile Crescent down to the Mediterranean. While Capernaum was not a combat post, the centurion was nonetheless a military veteran who may have seen his share of combat earlier in his career. If that were the case, then his slave would likely have been right beside him in the thick of battle, thus forging a relationship that was less master and slave and more like comrades in arms. His most valued slave was ill and close to death so he stepped out in faith, as we have seen all Jesus’ disciples do.  He had the faith that Jesus could heal his battle buddy.  Unlike most of the Gentile soldiers, Roman or otherwise, who were stationed in the notoriously revolutionary region of Galilee, this centurion not only built the synagogue for them (the foundation of which still stands in the ruins of Capernaum) but he went so far as to love the Jewish people. The centurion already saw the world differently than many of his peers, and his creative imagination allowed him to formulate a different vision of reality about the Jewish people AND about the itinerant Jewish preacher and healer who was now back in town.

Still, he recognized that there was a separation between him and the Jews. He wants to be respectful to this Jesus, so he sends some of the Jewish elders to speak with Jesus about his servant, knowing that a pious Jew like Jesus could not enter a Gentile house. The Jewish elders see this generous Gentile as a “worthy” candidate for a healing miracle, but the centurion believes himself to be “not worthy” to have Jesus come under his roof. The centurion understands orders and believes that it isn’t necessary for Jesus to be physically present in order to heal.  Indeed, as a commander of men, the centurion knows that he doesn’t need to be present in order to get things done. He gives an order and it is obeyed, even in his absence, and he now assumes that Jesus has the same kind of spiritual authority. All Jesus has to do is say the word and his healing order will be carried out. The centurion imagines another reality made possible by Jesus, and then acts on it.
Sister Joan Chittister tells the story of a priest who once traveled to see a renowned spiritual teacher, to spend a time on retreat with him.

“Master,” he said upon arriving, “I come to you seeking enlightenment.”

“Well, then,” the master said, “for the first exercise of your retreat, go into the courtyard, tilt back your head, stretch out your arms and wait until I come for you.”

Just as the priest arranged himself in that position, the rains came. And it rained. It rained the rest of the afternoon. Finally, the old master came back. “Well, priest,” he asked, “have you been enlightened today?”

“Are you serious?” the priest asked, in disgust. “I’ve been standing here with my head up in the rain for an hour. I’m soaking wet. I feel like a fool!”

The master said, “Well, priest, for the first day of a retreat that sounds like great enlightenment to me.”

The centurion has all the power in his relationship with Jesus. Yet, unlike the priest in the story, he is no fool. He could have lorded it over Jesus, but instead he sets his personal authority aside and submits himself to the authority of Jesus, a Jew — a subjugated member of a captive people. This wise officer understands that spiritual humility is the prerequisite to healing.

Jesus is surprised at this Gentile centurion’s ability to imagine a different outcome. “Not even in Israel have I found such faith,” Jesus says. It’s like he’s alluding to the two disagreements with the Pharisees in Luke 6 and the instructions at the end where he’s preaching against hypocrisy of the highest order.

Luke 6:46 -49, “‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”  This centurion’s house is built on rock and Jesus rewards him for it.

What is a disciple?  The centurion is obedient.  No doubt.  He followed through.  The centurion owned his own sinfulness, by humbling himself before Jesus.  Remember the Heng story.  How Vietnamese kid in the orphanage that would sacrifice himself for his friend?  The centurion made the sacrifice.  Even to ask Jesus to heal his servant would be looked down upon by his peers, but he did it anyway.  And he had the creative imagination to envision a different reality for himself and his friend.  He believed and had faith in Jesus to heal just by saying the Word.

A recent sign I saw said, “Faith is like Wi-Fi.  It’s invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.”  The centurion had a desperate need and Jesus had the power to fill it.  Faith can lift us toward a vision of a different future.  The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 11, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Even if we do not receive a miraculous healing, a restoration of a relationship, or the satisfactory resolution of any of a thousand other circumstances in which we might find ourselves, faith invites us to begin moving, even if only a bit at a time or a step at a time, toward hope and wholeness.

Like the centurion, we need to be willing to ask for help, even if we feel unworthy of it. Jesus specializes in those of us who believe we are unworthy. Jesus will take on even the roughest of our cases with healing grace. All we have to do is reach out in faith, to bring our hurts to the surface, and allow him to meet us there.

Dr. Harold Koenig, an associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, and Director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke, is considered to be a pioneer in the scientific study of the potential of spiritual healing. After studying thousands of people since 1984, Dr. Koenig found that religious faith not only promotes overall good health, but also aids in recovery from serious illness.

“By praying to God,” Koenig said, religious patients “acquire an indirect form of control over their illness.” They believe that they are not alone in their struggle and God is personally interested in them. This safeguards them against the psychological isolation that batters so many people with serious disease.

In a study of 455 elderly hospital patients, for example, Koenig found that people who attended church more than once a week averaged about four days in the hospital. People who never or rarely attended church spent about 10 to 12 days hospitalized.

When Koenig initially began telling his colleagues about these observations, many were skeptical. They saw spiritual healing as irrelevant to medical science. In recent years, however, more scientific journals have been publishing reports with similar findings. More and more doctors are beginning to understand that faith can have a role in healing.

A Dartmouth Medical School study found that heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following a surgery if they did not participate in group activities and did not find comfort in religion. Within six months of surgery, 21 patients had died; but there were no deaths among the 37 people who said that they were “deeply religious.”

Researchers in Israel studied 3,900 people living on kibbutzim (Jewish communal living at its finest) over a 16-year period. Their findings: The religious had a 40 percent lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer than their secular peers.

A Yale University study of 28,212 elderly people found that those who rarely or never attended church had twice the stroke rate of weekly churchgoers.

So there are definitely health benefits for people of faith, who are actively walking the walk and talking the talk.   Mike was telling me about the stradivarius violins last night.  They were built during the 17th and 18th century by the Stradivari family from Italy.  Their sound is unparalleled and all sort of stuff goes into the making of one.  Recently they discovered, the more you use it, the better it sounds.  It’s like prayer and walking alongside one another in community, the more you use them, the better your life will be.  God can use us to minister to and encourage others in their walk as disciples of Jesus. It’s faith lived out in relationship to others in the body of Christ.  Sometimes we have to have faith that God’s got this so that the world may see and know.  Sometimes we have to have faith FOR someone, like the centurion asking Jesus for the healing of his servant.  That’s called intercessory prayer and that’s what we do intentionally every Tuesday at prayer group.  That’s also why I created the facebook group “Point Hope Prayer & Encouragement.”  So that we can more fully share life with one another.  So when one of us wants to give up, give in, or give out, we pick one another up and spur each other on.  We’re not meant to live this life or walk this walk alone.  The truth is that we can be the healing presence of Christ to each other, helping one another, supporting one another, encouraging one another, being church to each other. We all need people who can speak into our lives and be the physical presence of the spiritual reality of Christ among us. We are members of one Body, says the apostle Paul, and the members should have “the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). The Jewish elders in Capernaum saw the Gentile centurion as a neighbor and wanted to alleviate his suffering by going to Jesus. Can we be agents of healing for each other in the same way, acting as intercessors and faith-walkers for those around us?  An old Irish Proverb says, “In the shelter of each other the people live.”  I believe that.  We shelter one another, covering one another’s weaknesses with our strengths.

Who do you know who is struggling? How can you be an advocate, an intercessory healer, a representative of Christ? How can you help others envision a different sort of outcome for the brokenness in their lives? And if you are the one who is suffering, whom can you ask for help? How will you take the step of faith not only to trust Jesus to heal you, but also trust the members of his Body to intercede and advocate for you?

in-the-shelter

 

Posted in Guidance, Healing, Health, perseverance, Tumor

Halfway Point

So I’m halfway through the radiation treatments and I have had very little side effects – occasional nausea, hair loss, and headaches.  But I’ve got some great wigs in a variety of colors!

This song came on the radio, as I was heading into radiation.  The chorus

“You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am
You are I am”

We certainly serve an audacious God.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JI4CPfuLW0

The lectionary text for this past week, shows Jesus casting out demons.  I think of the Florence and the Machine song “Shake it Off” with the lyrics “Every demon wants his pound of flesh….And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back…So shake him off”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0cjxmMDNFo

We serve an audacious God.  The Upper Room devotional had this verse from Psalm 62:8 this morning, “Trust in [God] at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  These are my reminders that God is faithful to deliver and no matter how my foolish pride may get in the way, I can always pour out my heart to God.

Posted in Community, Decay, Faith, Grace, Healing, Image, Mask, pride

There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly

One of my favorite books as a child was “There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.” My grandmother was a librarian so she had the inside track on all of the good children’s books when we were growing up. I don’t know if it was the rhyming or the irony of my lovingly prissy grandmother reading us this book about an old lady who swallowed a fly, but I loved that book. It’s kind of morbid if you read all the lines but hey – it was memorable.

Last night I enjoyed a dinner where one person found a fly in their food – still alive – stuck in the thousand island dressing and then when the manager came over to check on our main courses as they had arrived, we found two large hairs coming out of my steak. Delish.

Again, memorable.

This is a place where my parents have eaten often and I’ve eaten there a few times with them as well. We have had many good meals there and so in some ways, having one REALLY bad experience, you would think wouldn’t cancel out all of the good experiences. But then there’s something with something like this that makes you pause and think to yourself, if there’s live flies and steaks with hair coming out of the kitchen, what’s happening on the inside?

One of yesterday’s lectionary texts was Philippians 2:1-13 and there’s so much that can be learned from that text about who we are on the inside and what a community looks like when Christ’s love is lived from the inside out. Jesus didn’t just put on a nice facade on the outside to cover the decay on the inside. He lived out his calling authentically and radically. I know none of us are perfect and that sometimes the example of Jesus seems a bit daunting in a hurting and fallen world, but my hope is that even if Gordon Ramsey was to pop into the sometimes dirty kitchen of our hearts, that we are real with the things that challenge us and the things we’re working working and that we excel at. May we need just treat the outer symptoms, but also the very roots that can sometimes creep in and hold us back….whether that’s pride or arrogance or self-indulgence or anger or frustration or self-sabotage or lack of care.

Hope I don’t have any more memorable meals any time soon but a good word for our Wesleyan way of checking on how well it is with our soul. Thanks be to God for the grace and the continued love and healing and Spirit to keep moving and growing and changing and drawing more and more closely to God.

Posted in Community, Faith, God's Providence, Grace, Healing, Health, Thankful, Theodicy, Tumor

Update on that Spongy thing inside my Noggin’

  I am completely slacking on blogs right now which breaks all the rules of regular blogging.  Sorry about that!  I’ll catch up soon.  Right now I’m at a great conference and have tried to be as fully invested in it as possible, but there has been a part of me distracted.  Some of you that began following this blog when I started writing after finding out that I had a brain tumor and you walked with me through that journey and the recovery and even though the blog has become a little bit something different, I do still want to give you an update on that good ole brain of mine because I believe that this community of support has been invaluable and really a holy presence in my life and I can’t imagine my life without your prayer and support.

I have been doing 3 month MRI and neurosurgeon check ups over the past year.  For the most part, I try to keep moving with life and I give a sincere and concerted effort not to let these worries and fears rule over my life.  Then comes the time when I get the envelope from Carolina Spine and Neurosurgery in the mail with all of my appointment times and as Mike and I see it, I can feel the background stress and tension in me and those I love.  The unknown is so completely…humbling…scary…difficult.  There’s so much to unpack there but that would be an incredibly long blog and mine are already probably way too long.

Last week I went to my (I don’t really care to remember how many its been now) whatevereth MRI and the techs were asking how I was doing and what I was there for, all that good stuff and I told them my hope that maybe this was the visit where I could be increased to every 6 months or every year instead of every 3 months.

On Monday I met with the neurosurgeon and he said that it was the radiologist’s opinion that the part of the tumor still up there in brain/motor cortex land may have grown slightly but that it was very slight.  His opinion was that he didn’t see a change and disagreed with the radiologist.  We then had a lovely back and forth where I looked at the comparison MRI’s myself and tried to understand and that I got a chance to ask some hard questions.  Since Mike was not with me, I could ask some of the things that I want to know and would like to understand but that I don’t want to alarm, worry or hurt someone else by them hearing the questions or the answers.  Does that make sense?

So even though it was not my most favorite news in the world, I was okay.  My amazing doctor said he was going to take the tumor to the tumor board for them to decide if it had grown or not.  I called Mike and my parents on the way home and was okay.

Primarily I was okay because I was leaving the next morning for a conference and I just didn’t have the emotional energy or the whatever to process it.

Yesterday afternoon while I was in a workshop, the doctor left a message and when I hear him say his name I immediately get a little freaked out on the inside even though he’s a fabulous doctor – like fabulous – but it’s just anxiety producing.  But then he says an AMAZING thing – the tumor board doesn’t see any change.  AND because this place on my lovely brain has stayed consistent this year, I get to stretch the time between MRI’s to 6 months!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (I could probably mash exclamation points for a while on that one.)  That may seem like a little thing, but it’s such an act of hope and grace and peace to me.

And though I didn’t shed a tear on Monday, I couldn’t stop crying off and on yesterday evening.  Is that crazy?  The bad news – I take it and I’m like let’s do this thing.  The good news – I’m a basketcase.  In talking with a dear friend and colleague about this last night I told her as I was trying to process and express my layers of feelings that I really needed to blog about this.  For some odd, crazy reason this is how I started this journey – blogging.  And it has been such a healing and cathartic piece or even peace for me.  There’s something about putting it out there in writing and narrative that makes it something that I feel a little more grounded in.  I guess we each have our mediums – whether it’s walking outside or making pottery or playing baseball or journaling.  And I am thankful for this one.

In the midst of this I know that there are those walking incredibly hard and deep and heartbreaking journeys right now.  I think of the family members that are living this reality right now and the friends and loved ones who have faced challenges that I know not of.  Please do lift up in prayer those who are in the midst of the struggle of the unknown and in this thin place where anger and fear and sadness and grief and life and death and joy and pain are so close to the surface at times.  Each of us walks this journey at times.

And we’re not alone.

I have seen Christ in the colleagues that I’ve shared with here and that continue to uplift and inspire and challenge and hold me accountable.  I have seen Christ in my family who continue to battle for me.  I have seen Christ in the countless people that continue to tell me they’re praying for me or those that just give me space to be…and to feel…and to just cry or laugh or talk about it or not talk about it.  I have seen Christ when I’m by myself and I am vulnerable and just laid bare as a child of God.  Although there is no doubt that I would not have chosen for this piece of the puzzle of life, I have felt Christ’s Spirit and promise more tangibly and have felt the Body of Christ more profoundly and genuine than I have felt in my life.

I am grateful for a community of people that I can keep it real with on the sad days and the angry days and the joyous days and the rock and roll days.  I am grateful for a Savior who continues to be that Great Redeemer and Strong Protector and just that Amazing Grace who support us and girds us up in mighty, mighty ways.

So that’s my brain.

And one of the awesome things – 6 MONTHS!!!!!

Grace and peace to all of you.  I am gratefu for you all.

Posted in Death, Faith, Fear, God's Providence, Grace, Healing, Hope, Jesus, Methodism, Music, Spirit, Trust, Tumor, United Methodist Church

Tears

Annual Conference this year was both a whirlwind and a marathon.  Busy-ness or business was everywhere and it was both challenging and inspiring, a call to action and a test of will as we waited/persevered to the end.

I’m starting to think I’ve become more and more emotional as I grow older.  There were several times over this past week when I felt tears come to my eyes.  Some of those times were times of happiness and thanksgiving – feeling the Spirit move as Telley preached at Annual Conference, Josh’s ordination, the prayerful and powerful way our South Carolina delegation laid hands on Dad and prayed over him after unanimously deciding he would be our episcopal nominee.  There were so many great moments from the teaching to the preaching to the videos shared like this:

It was also a great time to camp out for Imagine No Malaria and to train some amazing Students In Mission (SIM) to commit their summers to being in mission = ministry with.  Much to be joyful about!

Sometimes the tears were both thankful and a little bit of just overwhelming gratitude.  It was surreal being back at Annual Conference this year.  Last year, I came in for two days right before the brain surgery and although some probably thought I was insane for coming, for me, it was my church.  The conference – both lay and clergy – are our people and that’s where we as a body share our joys and concerns.  I didn’t realize going into this how much being back at conference would bring up for me in terms of last year’s struggle.

We sang the song, “In Christ Alone” during the opening worship and those words and all of us a large body singing together was such a powerful witness and testimony to the love and providence of God.  (A video and lyrics are below.)  I’m glad we also sang this song during the ordination.  What a powerful song for our commissioned members and ordinands.

My mom’s birthday is June 11th and the brain surgery (left frontal craniotomy) was on her birthday last year.  There’s a part of me that would love to forget that date and not have any mark or reminder of it.  There’s another part of me that knows that it was everyone’s prayers and the grace of God that brought me through and it should be celebrated.  Don’t know which one is winning yet.  The jury is still out.  I get teary just typing about it.  Does that mean I haven’t fully dealt with it yet?  Could be.  Too soon?  Maybe, but not entirely.  Does that mean that was a mucho grande big deal and it’s still crazy to me that all of that happened a year ago and wasn’t just a bad dream?  Yes.  It’s hard to believe that that was me and if I didn’t have my lovely scar that I worry about getting sunburned, I might forget.

It’s hard to process things.  There’s a certain grief and emotion that swells up when you least expect it sometimes.  And it happens to all of us.  I was sitting in the Memorial Service for ministers that have gone to be with God over the past year on Mom’s birthday on the anniversary of my brain surgery and I just couldn’t do it.  I got through the sermon but the slide show of the pictures just did me in.  It’s always been a powerful service to me since in my mind the South Carolina Annual Conference is my home/my church and I know that one day there will be a service for each of us.  And there goes a Sandi Patti song and slides of the pastor that helped during my Gandaddy’s funeral and I have to head on out.  Even in the midst of the thanksgiving for life, even in the midst of the joy of the swelling of the Spirit, even in the midst of realizing that nothing can pluck any of us from God’s hand – there’s still both the realization that something really scary and really serious happened and a something that’s even beyond the word thanksgiving that describes that depth of feeling behind all that could have been and is now.

As I think about those that have faced such devastation in the storms and floods this year, those that have lost loved ones, those that are facing moves and transitions, those that are searching for hope and a rock to lean on when it feels like the walls are closing in around you – I know that the great Comforter is at work in our world and is blowing, inspiring and surrounding us every step of the way.  I am grateful that it is in Christ alone our hope is found and that we will never be turned away from it.  It’s available to each of us.

What are you grieving today?  What are your struggles?  When’s the last time you felt that ground swell of emotion?  How do we see the Spirit at work in our world?  What are the fears and frustrations that we’ve held on to and not given over to God?  What are those buttons of grief that can be turned in to sources of joy in our lives?

We are given songs or videos or movies or sermons or scriptures or friends or emails or a beautiful tree or the melody of the ocean or the stillness and quiet to claim as our promise from God.  It’s there waiting for us.  May we open ourselves to the Word God would speak to us this day.  May we claim it and know it and feel it to the depths of our souls.  May we know and trust.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin?s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

Posted in Faith, God's Providence, Grace, Guidance, Healing, Health, Justice, Movies, Prayers, pride, Sermons, Trust

Prayer

This Sunday’s Gospel lectionary text is Luke 11:1-13.  It begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray and Jesus teaching them Lord’s prayer followed by him talking about seeking and finding and words that I say in just about every other sermon or talk with students at one time or another.  Very familiar words… “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you fill find; knock, and hte door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Then it goes on talking about eggs and scorpions.  It’s a rich text.  And when I picked it at the beginning of the week when I working on the bulletin, I really wanted to work on it and see where the Spirit led because while saying the Lord’s prayer in the midst of The Journey service last week, I actually stumbled over some of the words – can’t even remember which ones now – because I was thinking about what they actually meant and what we’re actually saying when we say that familiar and yet powerful prayer.

I admit that as often is the case when I pick a text as time gets closer to Sunday I start to second guess and think that I might should have gone with one of the others.  It is always awe-inspiring for me to think about all of the little and amazing things that God brings to us when we’re wrestling with something.  This week it has been prayer for me.  Part of me does regret picking that text because there’s a part of me that’s not ready to think seriously and openly about this text after the events of the past couple months.  It’s still a little too personal to put into a sermon or to reflect on.

Mike brought in the poster board card that the folks at SC’s Annual Conference made me while I was having surgery.  Who knows how it ended up in my trunk and I have no clue who brought it from Florence but it ended up in Wesley on Thursday morning as Mike was cleaning out my trunk.  I can’t say how much those prayers meant to me and continue to mean to me.  I can’t begin to express how much I want to keep asking and knocking on that door in prayer in hope.

I’ve been reading various women’s books over all this time out of sheer boredom from doctor’s office visits and when the kids are watching that episode of Caillou or Dora or Phinneas and Ferb for the millionth time.  (Sidenote:  most women’s books are so depressing and sad – does no one believe in happy endings anymore besides the Christian fiction authors???)  One of my dear students here let me borrow The Time Traveler’s Wife before she left for the summer.   Beautiful story.  Deep love.  I will never watch the movie because it’s more sad than I want, but beautiful.  Yet again I do think God brings random things into our lives that wake us up to a truth we need to see or things we need to realize or just that guidance that we can’t always even understand.  In reading the ending of that book – I found myself realizing that even though I have prayed and felt uplifted throughout this journey and I have appreciated the prayers of so many, I’ve never actually cried out specifically for God to heal me. 

It kind of freaks me out even to type it.  I know that’s weird.  Especially for a pastor that does believe that prayer can do miraculous things.  And someone that does believe in the “Heal me and I will be healed.  Save me and I will be saved.  For you alone are God.”  So in thinking about the sermon that I have no idea what I’m going to really say tomorrow – what makes us afraid to ask or knock or seek?  What holds us back?  What stands in our way?

Crying out to God that night, trying to figure it out – I don’t know.  It’s a lot of things.  Fear that it won’t happen.  Fear of what healing really means and for how long.  Fear that even if everything is healed, I won’t know how to go back to life as usual.  Is it pride?  Do I pray for others but not want to pray for myself?  Why is that?  I’m no more resilient or together and certainly not any more godly.  Is it that I see people all around every day and I hear stories of people that need healing so much more and I wonder and rail that I’m sure some of them ask, seek, and knock and where are their good gifts and not scorpions?  I just saw a blip of Ann Curry’s special on the Today Show with the family of 10 living on $500 a month and I’m like why am I even taking the time to write a blog or eating lifesaver gummies when there are people out there that are struggling and hurting needing “good gifts” as much as the rest of us.

Do we think we’re not good enough to ask?  Or not deserving enough?  Or needy enough?  Or nice enough?  What is it that holds us back from prayer?  What makes it hard to ask and give these things over?  Control?  Pride?  Fear?  Anger at what we’ve seen as unanswered prayer?

In watching Anne of Green Gables on PBS for a couple weekends I noticed how Marilla first taught Anne how to pray and she explained to her in a very simple manner – that she should thank God for God’s blessings and then ask God if there’s something she’d like.  Hilarious scene.  Sadly youtube does not have it.  I think about the whole ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  I think of all the prayer circles and prayer ministries and prayer shawls (and Windsor UMC I love the one y’all made me!  it is in my office and i’ve already had a couple students wrap in it and i hope feel your prayers!).  I read this passage and think very layered/complicated back and forth theology blah, blah, blah statements but you know it’s really pretty simple.  Ask – it will be given, search – find, knock – door open.  It’s not complicated.  And yet somehow we make it so in our minds.  Or maybe that’s just mine.

I don’t have all the answers and I feel sure that I won’t have come up with them by tomorrow morning at 11 am, but I do know that God is a God of love and that God does love us as God’s very own.  So those scorpions or the AIDS or the heart attacks or the car accidents or the cancers or the abuse or the hurricanes are not from God.  They can be used by God for our good but our God knows us, loves us and seeks the best for us.

Maybe that’s what it boils down to…the trust and the faith to believe not only that God answers prayer and that God hears us, but that God is love and is good and is not going to bait and switch us and give us a mouse trap to stick our fingers in instead of an awesome gigantic lollipop.  It is with confidence and boldness that we pray knowing that we are heard and held by the great God of the universe.  We can cry out when we’re starting a new job, or a new school, or a new adventure and we will be answered.  We can continue to ask the hard questions and wrestle and just not understand and as we seek, surely we will find…Can’t wait for each of us to knock on that door and to see the warm light and smile when the door is opened.

Found this from Celine Dion and Josh Groban on youtube.  I know a little cheesey but I do think there’s a love and emotion in there that is present in these passages about prayer…that love of parent and child – that guidance and leading.

I pray you’ll be our eyes, and watch us where we go.
And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer, when we lose our way
Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

The light you have
I pray we’ll find your light
will be in the heart
and hold it in our hearts.
to remember us that
When stars go out each night,
you are eternal star
Nella mia preghiera
Let this be our prayer
quanta fede c’è
when shadows fill our day

How much faith there’s
Let this be our prayer
in my prayer
when shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

We dream a world without violence
a world of justice and faith.
Everyone gives the hand to his neighbours
Symbol of peace, of fraternity
We ask that life be kind
and watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
another soul to love

The force his gives us
We ask that life be kind
is wish that
and watch us from above
everyone finds love
We hope each soul will find
around and inside
another soul to love
Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer, just like every child

Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
Need to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe

It’s the faith
you light in us
I feel it will save us