Seasons

Ecclesiastes 3 (NRSV)

Everything Has Its Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The God-Given Task

What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

 

This time of year has always held a mixture of excitement and nerves.  As a kid I loved getting new school clothes and the neat nick in me loved the clean notebooks and the perfectly sharpened pencils with the new erasers.  I still like that part of it.  Buying new school clothes or uniforms and checking off everything on my kids’school supply lists, gives me a sense of satisfaction as if I’ve accomplished something.  Add to it the list of things that you have to complete when you’ve not only moved schools and communities, but states, and even my peppy cheerleader organizational mode gets tired and discouraged.  Ever notice how a bad attitude is contagious?  It really IS.  (Christian music is what keeps me positive. Without it?  Yikes!)  When you’ve had to go to the DMV over 5 times to get your license and license plates, all arrows are pointing to God teaching you patience, perseverance and endurance.  It’s a constant test.  The corollary is true too.  As hard as it sometimes is to choose joy instead of frustration, it’s well worth it in our workplaces, with our friends, and DEFINITELY with our families.   So after the fourth time at the DMV, I stopped by a craft store and bought this picture, as a reminder to choose joy.choose joy

Today after Point Hope’s prayer time, where we intentionally pray for the prayer request cards lifted on Sunday and anything a person has asked us to pray for, this Mandisa song came on the radio as I was listening in my office.  It’s called “He is With You” and below are the video and the lyrics.

 

There’s a time to live
And a time to die
There’s a time to laugh
And a time to cry
There’s a time for war
And a time for peace
There’s a hand to hold
In the worst of these

He is with you when your faith is dead
And you can’t even get out of bed
Or your husband doesn’t kiss you anymore
He is with you when your baby’s gone
And your house is still, and your heart’s a stone
Cryin’ God, what’d You do that for
He is with you

There’s a time for yes
And a time for no
There’s a time to be angry
And a time to let it go
There is a time to run
And a time to face it
There is love to see you
Through all of this

He is with you in the conference room
When the world is coming down on you
And your wife and kids don’t know you anymore
He is with you in the ICU
When the doctors don’t know what to do
And it scares you to the core
He is with you

We may weep for a time
But joy will come in the morning
The morning light

He is with you when your kids are grown
When there’s too much space and you feel alone
And you’re worried if you got it right or wrong
Yes He is with you when you’ve given up
On ever finding your true love
Someone who feels like home
He is with you

When nothing else is left
And you take your final breath
He is with you

It was a perfect song for me to listen to right then.  There’s a time and a season for everything and God is with us through it all.  We choose every day and all throughout the day whether to grasp hold of the negative or we choose to give it to God and choose joy because we trust and believe God can make a way when there doesn’t seem to be one.

Even when this tired Mommy Pastor is worried about “Meet the Teacher” on Thursday afternoon, and the first day of school on Monday; I have to trust and pray that Enoch and Evy will have excellent teachers and will make new friends and we will find our new rhythm and places that we like.  Enoch said tonight, “We need to find a good doughnut shop and a good comic store.”  And we do.  But we also need to be gentle with our selves, as we grieve past things and embrace the new.  God is ever in the midst.  As Birdee Pruitt says at the end of Hope Floats, “That’s what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too…”

As we begin this school year, with all of it’s crazy hecticness, I give thanks to God for always being in the mix, guiding and leading us on this adventure, helping us to trust and lean into grace, God’s abundant grace.  If you’re feeling anxious about anything, then I leave you with these verses to carry in your heart.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

We all, at any season of life, need to worry less and pray more.  Amen?  Amen.

 

 

Worry

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

How many times have you heard those words, or something similar? The song, “Don’t worry, be happy” is certainly catchy, but not as “Hakuna Matata.” Maybe what you heard was a distinctive New York accent saying, “Fuggedaboudit!”

Those four words — “Don’t worry about it” — are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language.  You could say “no worries” and the words could mean very different things.  Someone could say them honestly “no worries” and it means genuinely don’t worry about it or they could say “no worries” because they’re really mad that you made something they cared about seem trivial or you said something to hurt their feelings and when they saw it, they brushed it off.

They’re useless not because banishing worry isn’t a good idea. Certainly, it is. Duh.  “Don’t worry about it” is advice routinely ignored and impossible to obey.  It’s a clichéd phrase that often doesn’t get at the weight or depth of the issue.

Some psychologists — borrowing language from medical science — draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. Leonardo DiCaprio when he comes face to face with the grizzly bear in The Revenant has acute anxiety.  You could say he’s experiencing acute anxiety and fear for most of the movie because he just reaches the double digits with his lines.

Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread, but have little idea where those dark forebodings come from — nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them — then chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety.  My mom calls this the worry cycle.  When you wake up every morning going down the list of worries…your family…your classes…your job…that particular test…that girl or guy that you like…what am I going to this summer…

The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” I figured it meant something along the lines of nervous, but I didn’t know it meant to choke or strangle.

There’s another English word that traces its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina — the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries becomes choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle.

Anxiety, in other words, can kill you, if you let it fester.

Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul, and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.

Anxious. Angina. Anger.  It would be so easy to link this to Star Wars as leading to the Dark Side, but I won’t.  In our 24 hour news cycle, we’ve gotten numb to the headlines. Would you say it is worse now, more violent now, more worrisome now?

Although we may imagine ourselves the most anxiety-ridden people ever, gazing back longingly, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals this is hardly the case. Speaking God’s word to the community of Israelites in Babylonian captivity, our text reminds us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (vv. 2-3).  The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile.

It can be hard for us to conceive just what Jewish people went through as they were uprooted from their homes, and transported to the Babylonian capital. Not everyone was compelled to relocate, of course — just the political, intellectual and economic elite, the ruling class. The Babylonian rulers seem to have followed the advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Settling the cream of Judah’s leadership in comfortable quarters, in a neighborhood of the city all their own, the Babylonian overlords made certain there were none from the defeated nation’s leadership who could raise a rebellion back home.

The entire identity of the Jewish people, by contrast, was rooted in their theological understanding of the land. They were proud to be the chosen people Moses had led out of Egypt to claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The land was the principal sign of the Lord’s favor, the continual reminder that they lived in a state of divine grace. The temple mount in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their universe.   Remember God’s broader plan of salvation is for ALL people, unlike what those Turlington preachers say, but God focused attention on the shocking particularity of God’s love for this one people, Israel, for whom God would pay any price.

When all this was suddenly snatched away from them, not only for their immediate physical circumstances, but, also, whether they could maintain an identity as the Lord’s chosen people without that tangible reality of the Promised Land. They also wondered how they could worship God apart from the cherished temple rites. Their cry of despair is echoed in Psalm 137:4: “How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”

Isaiah assures them. He gives the people a word from the Lord. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who but the Lord could accomplish such a wonder, redeeming the exiles from their hopeless situation? How could such a miraculous release from their captivity happen, unless the Lord willed it? This prophetic passage pictures the exiles’ journey home, passing even through rushing rivers without hindrance or danger.

The image of passing safely through the waters may recall Song of Songs 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” What miraculous power is it that brings the exiles home, across the mighty Euphrates, but divine love?  How is it that God can bring us out of the muck and mire of our own lives and set our feet on solid ground?

God is with us.  We are not the first generation of human beings to feel inundated by worry. True, we often use our mass-communications technology to construct an echo chamber to amplify our natural anxieties, but the fundamental psychological fact of worry is no different. By nature, we are a worrying people. At times, worry keeps us appropriately vigilant so we may fend off tangible threats. Yet, more often than not, it’s simply a burden.

Yet the Bible in today’s text reminds us that we need not fear.

We can live without anxiety because:

– God created us – In John Wesley’s notes he wrote about this particular passage.  “I have not only created them out of nothing, but I have also formed and made them my peculiar people.”  God formed us.  When you build or create something, you know it inside and out. God, as our Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. Moreover, the text says, God redeemed us, God calls us by name and God says “you are mine.”

So worry is a lack of trust. If we truly believe that God says, “You are mine,” then how can we be anxious about the things that cross our paths?

This does not mean that there will not be waters to pass through, or fires to put out, but God promises to be our faithful shield and strength.

Such anxiety does not honor the God who created us, calls us by name and not only says “You are mine,” but “you are precious in my sight” (v. 4).

I invite y’all this week as worries or fears flood your minds and hearts, that you come up with 3-5 word phrase like, “Lord have mercy” or “God give me peace” that you say in your head as these thoughts come unbidden.  The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you and we as a community will be here for you.

The Bible says that we should “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Here, the writer echoes the comforting voice of Isaiah the prophet.
Two Days We Should Not Worry

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow. With all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance, Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad. It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring that renders a person wild with anxiety. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

–Author unknown.

Matthew 6:25-34 says it this way, “25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Chronic anxiety — unlike the acute variety — isn’t based on outside threats. It rises from within. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  The great God of the Universe knows your name.  And some of y’all may freak out at that.  Don’t worry.  Confident that you are more than your name, that you are first and foremost a baptized and beloved child of God, you can look at the world, and even around your neighborhood, with new eyes.  How would that affect how we live?  If we know the Living God?  How would that shape us being in the world?  Do we spread peace that way?  Would that affect how we see the challenges that come daily into our personal world?  And the broader world?  I’ll let you wrestle with those questions.  It’s easy to say what we would do, it’s much harder to banish worry from hearts and minds, to act as peace agents in the world, seeing if we could help, only a little, and trusting God will be our strong fortress……all the days of our life.  Amen.

 

A little too much…

I don’t know why but it’s been a hard couple of days in thinking about brain tumor land. Don’t worry nothing new – no change. This sounds so morbid, but on Saturday night I dreamed that I died – literally – and then went to heaven. Let’s just say in my dream, heaven was not what I expected. The pros – my three cats greeted me at the entrance. Who knows what that means…could be because two weeks ago I found out that the oldest cat Pug is in the beginning stages of kidney and renal failure or then again it could be because they greet me at the door all the time and any time they have thrown up a hair ball somewhere or made another mess Mike likes to threaten them. =0)

I don’t remember a ton about the dream or how things were laid out or anything and I am not at all saying that this is what it’s like or any sort of premonition at all (is that enough disclaimers there?), but I spent the dream waiting for people to get there. Now I know that heaven is heaven and duh we’re not going to be miserable sitting around swinging our legs back and forth waiting for the rest of our family to get there, but that was the dream. It sucked. Royally.

I didn’t really tell anyone about it until yesterday primarily because I had been thinking about it a lot and I know that if I say something out loud or if I write about it, in some crazy way, that helps me to process and make sense of things.

And then brain tumor stuff has just been popping up everywhere – wonderful friends checking in, a minister on the conference prayer list that we should be praying for, on everyone’s cancer statuses yesterday which was great, me still trying to get hair gel to smooth down the little hairs from the scar that are now long enough to look a little ridiculous, and the sometimes headaches and tingling that I often ignore but sometimes in one of these moods, wonder about. It is so stinking frustrating sometimes. On Sunday at the South Carolina delegation meeting we listened to a presentation on Benefits and Pension for close to two hours hearing about possible changes at the upcoming General Conference. When talking about life insurance and death benefits and spouses and pensions and insurance and disability for that long there is a large part of me that wants to just think of this as a tiny bump in the road and things are going to be fine and I’ll make it to the mandatory retirement age of 70. It could happen. I know that it could. And there’s another part of me that wants to figure out ways to provide and care for my family no matter what will happen and looking at all scenarios have as much of a plan as I can.

For the most part, I don’t even like bringing it up because I know if I talk to Josh about it while playing basketball or Mike about it when we get home from Wesley or to whoever in some ways, especially for my family, it stresses them out too. They don’t know what’s going to happen any more than I do.

It’s scary. And there’s still a part of me that is angry and frustrated that this is even part of our lives. There’s enough to worry about with kids and bills and living out one’s calling and vocational discernment to actually deal with all of this.

So that’s where I am. Saying to God it may just be a little too much and that I’m a little tired of battling in so many areas.

Are pastors “supposed” to say that? Who knows. But if I don’t keep it real and have my integrity than to me I’m nothing but a hypocrite and someone in denial.

The irony of this is that last night I preached during our sermon series on the book of Romans about God making impossible things possible. We were specifically looking at Romans 4 where it talks about Abraham and his faith. We then had some time of silence at the end where we could have a chance to think about some things that we would see or do or figure out or try or find if only we didn’t have doubts or fears or even sometimes “reality” holding us back. What would you do with your life if you could do absolutely anything and money nor education nor baggage nor what people would think were obstacles for you? What are some of your hopes and dreams for your family, your friends, your community, your church, your work? If we threw all of the “buts” out the window what would we grasp hold of and pursue?

What are the things that get in the way of that? What are some things we need to let go of in order to move forward and try to make our dreams into a reality?

These aren’t questions that you wrestle with for five minutes and than you’re good to go. Or maybe that works for you. I find that I have to intentionally pray and meditate and think and actually force myself to look and open my eyes and heart to the possibilities while telling my fears and frustration and failures to “shut it” for a few minutes so that I can see the light.

Because sometimes it feels like it’s a little too much. Actually sometimes it feels like it’s a lot too much. As excited as I was to move from 3 months to 6 months in the amount of MRI checks, there is a scared part of me that is nervous about that. What if that’s 3 months of something growing and us not doing something about it? I know that my doctors would never have let me go longer if I wasn’t ready to, but that’s what fears do…they somehow make it where even the things you want, you’re nervous about because you’re still feeling a way into a “new normal” or any kind of normal for that matter.

Then you go down the list of all of the people that have it so much worse than you and that things could be a million times more terrible….but that’s not comforting. I don’t want anyone to be going through anything like tumors or cancer or sickness and uncertainty of any kind. Does it mean that you’re thankful for all that God has done, is doing and will do? Sure. I have no idea what I would do without that. I need those times between me and God where I can say what I need to say and cry out and wrestle and not be censored by anyone.

We need time to sit and rest and be with God. We need time to let our fears and frustrations and disillusionment and grief go so that we can let new life spring forth not just in the midst of the weeds randomly despite everything, but in ways that we nurture and water and grow.

So I guess in this rambling post that may not be for anyone except for me writing and figuring this out – I need to find and make time to discern and be open to what God would have me do in this time and place, what God is calling my family to do, our community to do, Wesley to do. I need to trust that it’s okay that sometimes it’s a little too much and it can be heartbreaking and angering and discouraging and annoying. I need to realize that God is bigger than all of this – crazy dreams, long talks on benefits and pensions, things in my life playing up to my fears – and that God is with me and walking with me and comforting me each step of the way even when I want to bless the world and God out sometimes.