Winterville United Methodist Church

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

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Blog posts : "General"

August 7, 2017 “All I Needed to Know..."

August 7, 2017

 

It’s a special privilege when a grandparent gets to keep a grandchild for a week or for a weekend or even for an overnight stay!  The bonding that takes place, the granting special requests that parents most certainly would have denied, the having fun while doing nothing very significant—all of these characterize grandchild/grandparent time together.

But did you know how much you—a grown-up—can learn from the younger set?  In my case this was a two-year-old.

I learned that if I opened my eyes there was fun just waiting to happen on every corner!  The library folks were there on the front lawn with beads to thread for bracelets and bubble mixture in tubs ready to insert the big spans of yarn to produce bubbles.  They were there with pizza and juice boxes, and they let us crash their party!  What delight we can find in the unexpected!

I learned that if I sharpen my imaginary skills that I might see things in the world I otherwise might miss—take for example an old stump standing in my neighbor’s yard.  I had seen it many, many times—in fact every day as I have exited my house.  But with Lily Mae’s help I was able to see a leg standing straight up out of the ground—FASCINATING!.  And coming home from church, the two of us caught a different vantage point—the same old stump but this time it was clear that one broad segment to the right side of the stump was the four fingers of a hand, and a single smaller branch sticking out to the left clearly was the thumb!  How could I have missed it on all my previous trips home from the church!

But most of all I learned that life never has to be faced with a ho-hum kind of attitude.  No joyless, expressionless, yawn-upon-yawn kind of existence for us!  After all, “This is the day the Lord has made!”  This is a day open for adventure.  This is a day to experience the world using all our senses.  This is a time for bringing a sense of anticipation to every hour of the day! 

Thank you, Lily Mae, for all you taught me in our short time together!  Truly all I needed to know, I learned from a two-year-old!

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July 24, 2017 "Writer's Block"

July 24, 2017

July 24, 2017 “Writer’s Block”

Writers live in fear of one thing—writer’s block!  There’s no explaining it.  It simply comes out of the blue.  It’s an experience of feeling as though no words will flow; no thoughts will gel.  You’ve seen it portrayed on movie screens—the writer sitting in front of an ancient typewriter, inserting page after page, starting over again and again and again with no intelligible stories coming to fruition.

In our lives of faith we often experience a similar kind of phenomenon.  We sometimes refer to it as a dry well. Many of us grew up without benefit of city water systems.  Instead we had to drop a bucket attached to a pulley system into the well with the hopes of filling it with water which we would then wind up for use in our homes.  But imagine the consternation if one day we dropped in the bucket only to discover that the well had dried up—no water to draw, nothing to replenish our dry, parched throats.

The Psalmist was good in calling out to God in such times of despair.  The Psalmist recognized his dependence upon God, but sometimes he felt as though God were far away.  Sometimes he would plead with God and plead with God to be present in whatever set of circumstances had come his way. 

There was, however, another part of the Psalmist’s prayer.  The Psalmist would be begin his prayer with complaint.  He would go so far as to list REASONS why God needed come and intervene.  These reasons would include things so noteworthy as, “God, we look CRAZY to our pagan neighbors if we call out to you and you do not come to our aid!”  (My paraphrase!)   But before ending the prayer the Psalmist on most occasions would recall ways that God had been faithful in the past, and if faithful in the past the Psalmist would feel he could rely upon God for current and future experiences of distress.

Most often if the wells of our faith are dry it is not because God has failed to show up.  Most often the wells of our faith are dry because you and I have failed to spend time putting aside other distractions in order to be attentive to scripture and to prayer.  But whatever the cause for our “dry wells” you and I can follow the example of the Psalmist.  We can call out in our distress.  We can give God reasons why God should come to our aid. 

But may we also remember the other part of the Psalmist’s pattern in prayer.  May we remember the ways God has been faithful to us in the past.  May we recount the good work that God has done in our lives throughout our lives.  May we feel that sense of certainty that because God has shown up in the past, has acted on our behalf in the past, then surely God will show up NOW!

And FYI—writer’s block—OVER!

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April 24, 2017 "Up Close and Personal"

April 25, 2017

Many of us have admired giraffes from a distance.  It’s is obvious that they have long, slender necks and that as a result they can gracefully soar above most other creatures on earth.  But rarely have many of us had opportunities to know giraffes from the up-close-and personal viewpoint.  All that ended for me last week as I had the chance to visit Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida with Ken, my daughter, and granddaughter!

We road through the various sections of the facility as if on safari.  It was a wonder and a delight to see animals in terrains resembling their natural habitats—animals that we rarely get a chance to see.  An ostrich pecked at our windshield as if demanding food.  Huge numbers of zebras proudly displayed their one-of-a-kind patterns of black and white.  Giraffes strolled along as if to teach us the no-care-in-the-world mode of living.

Near the end of our visit we discovered an area allocated for feeding giraffes.  In order to achieve our up-close-and-personal stance we had to ascend a ramp onto a tall perch that put adults on eye-level with the eight-foot animals.  We eagerly paid multiple $2.00 increments for 3 lettuce leaves for the feeding task. 

I held two-year-old Lily Mae as she held the lettuce leaves out to the giraffes. She was a bit reticent and even in my arms she was barely able to get the lettuce leaves close enough for the giraffes, but never-you-mind!  The giraffes had a masterplan for dealing with such challenges!

We discovered that giraffes not only have long necks, but they also have incredibly long tongues that are agile—that can twist and turn.  They are designed for pulling the leaves high off the acacia tree—the leaves that grow above the thorns found on lower parts of the tree.  But in this instance, the long, twisty tongues could maneuver the lettuce leaves right out of the hand of a delighted two-year-old with her grandmother experiencing great joy and wonder in the process!

So often you and I think that we know SO much about God.  But often we experience God only from a distance!  We spend little time in prayer, little time in worship, little time seeking understanding of who God is and what God desires to do in the world.

But God always wants to change that for us!  God invites us into an up-close-and-personal relationship!  Then and only then can we truly begin to know God, to feel God’s love, and to understand what God has to offer us in our lives!

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April 17, 2017 "A New Chapter"

April 17, 2017

In 2010 I had finished the project part of the work toward my DMin degree.  The writing of my dissertation lay ahead.

In one respect the writing process was daunting—talking about the grief experience and how the lament psalms did or did not provide hope and help for members of my grief support group.  In the other respect, however, the writing became simple and easy.  After all, there were chapter limits—that which confined my writing.  There even was a maximum page limit.  Chapters could never click on endlessly.  Neither could a hundred pages become two hundred, three hundred or more.

Sometimes life has a way of defining chapter limits and page limits. Sometimes we get difficult diagnoses and despite the best medical treatments, good dietary regimens, hope and faith and trust, chapters of our lives are confined to certain limitations.  That’s tragic.

But the real tragedy is when you and I live our lives as if chapter limits and page limits had been set for us when they have not.  The real tragedy is when we let loss of jobs, disappointments, setbacks, and even downward turns in matters of health to cause us to see ourselves as “in the final chapter,” as having no possibility of a new chapter for the future.

Just as all hope and possibility for a future disappears the Risen Christ shows up.  He offers us the possibility of a new chapter in our lives—the opportunity to live out love and hope with people around us, the opportunity to put a positive stamp on the world.  May we each live fully into the new chapter God wants to write with us in our lives.

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April 10, 2017 “Give Thanks”

April 10, 2017

It was a beautiful day—a bit of a nip in the air but beautiful nonetheless.  The work—if you want to call it work—began early in the day.  Adults, volunteers from the life of faith, gathered on the church lawn.  Tubs and bags held their bounty—candy-filled eggs to be strewn around the playground and the various sections of lawn flanking the church.  Before long the church yard looked as though a plane had flown over and spread the eggs in all the colors of the rainbow so thickly that it was almost impossible to walk without crushing one of the treasures.

Soon “eggspectant” (excuse the pun) children, their parents, and grandparents showed up for the fun.  They sat first with an adult-sized Easter bunny on the steps of the church.  For a time there was a reprieve from eggs and Easter bunny themes despite the fact that they sat on the Easter bunny’s lap or scooted as close to her as they could get.  The reprieve came in the form of a story—the true meaning of Easter.

The children knew well the story handed down generation after generation from the time of Christ.  They could answer all the questions.  They seemed to feel the sense of hope and anticipation just ahead on Easter Day.  They understood the connection between empty plastic eggs and an empty tomb as Jesus came forth out of the grave!

Today I give thanks for the life of faith.  I applaud and celebrate adults who will give of their time on busy weekends to create special moments in the lives of children.  I give thanks for the hearts of children that are open and receptive to the old, old story.  I give thanks for Christ willing to go to the cross and for God’s redemptive power to raise him to life on the third day! 

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April 3, 2017 “Moving on to Perfection”

April 3, 2017

I have taught EVERY kind of piano student since beginning to teach in 1973.  I have taught students whose mothers said, “I never learned to play so you are going to learn!”  I have taught students who begged their parents for lessons long before they actually enlisted me as a teacher. I have taught students who never touched the piano from one lesson to another, and I have taught students who played constantly from one lesson to another.  I have taught students who simply wanted to play through a piece and checked it off as having been learned however cursorily, and I have taught those who wanted to play and play, practice and practice, until they could play without stops and starts—errors along the way.

Matthew, my grandson, came to his piano lesson this week.  Before I could ask him to play a particular piece, he pulled out his hymn arrangement book and said he wanted to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” for me.  He said, “I want to play it until I can play it perfectly!”

Wow—music to a piano teacher’s ears!  Not literal music—but music in the form of words—that a student, a grandson no less—wants to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” until he can play it perfectly!

John Wesley constantly spoke of that kind of commitment to the Christian walk.  He never once saw the faith as a matter of a one-time decision to follow Jesus.  Instead he saw that day by day the Christian must pledge himself/herself to following in the footsteps of Jesus.  He, in particular, saw the person of faith as on a path of being made perfect—made perfect in love.  One of the historic questions as ministers are ordained is this, “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?”

It’s a daunting question.  Being made perfect sounds impossible for us to achieve this side of heaven.  But God’s desire is that we be in constant pursuit of the love of Christ lived out in our lives.  We need all be more like Matthew, “I want to practice it and practice it until it is perfect!” 

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March 27, 2017 “The Test of Time”

March 27, 2017

When I was in school and studying works of literature I learned the definition of a classic as “something that withstands the test of time.”  I am convinced—classic or not—that a good love story will stand the test of time!

My daughter grew up watching the animated Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  She loved it so much and watched it so often that any member of the household could sing the songs.  We discovered in our sleep images of dancing teapots and teacups and candelabras and clocks from having seen the movie so often during the day.

Beauty and the Beast is reborn in a new version and is currently playing on the big screen.  No doubt it will capture the imagination of many additional generations of children and moms and dads. 

The story has that poignant mix of the struggle and suffering of a beast locked away in a hidden castle by a spell cast upon him combined with the hope and possibility for a new life made possible should someone come and love him.  Belle, of course, is the beautiful young girl who over time comes to love the Beast despite his gruesome exterior.  She is able to look into his heart to discover something there that is gentle and lovable.  In addition she is moved by how he comes rushing to her aid when she is threatened by wolves lurking in the forest or by how he wards off Gastón who wants to capture her and make her a pretty armpiece to support his narcissistic personality.

At this time of year we particularly focus our attention on a different kind of love story.  It is a classic, for certainly it has withstood the test of time. 

It is a story that began with a motley group of followers who saw in their friend something that captured their imagination.  They walked with him, listened to his stories, witnessed amazing things that he did for persons in the world around them. 

Finally, they walked with him to a lonely spot on the outskirts of town.  It was there that there saw him suffer and die an agonizing death on a cross.  It was because he loved them that he willingly laid down his own life.  It was because he loved them that he chose not his own path through life but rather chose God’s path. 

It’s a love story like no other.  The motley group of followers first told the story, but generation after generation after generation has done the same.  Finally, the story comes down to us.  Will we tell the story so that generations beyond ourselves will treasure it as well?

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March 20, 2017 “This Old House”

March 20, 2017

As I flip the channels and discover This Old House, I always stop and see what the particular episode has to say about my own efforts in renovating an old house.  The first thing that I see portrayed in the show—validated in my own experience—is that things in old houses are never perfect! Corners are not plumb.  Floors are not level.  Walls have wavy imperfections. All of these present particular challenges in renovation efforts.

The second thing that I always realize as I watch episodes of the show is that I am not Tom Silva.  Neither am I Norm Abrams, Steve Thomas, or Bob Vila!  If I spend the rest of my life trying to acquire their skills and expertise I will fall miserably short! 

The third thing I learn as I watch the show is that one failed attempt at a project necessitates a little research and additional efforts in different directions.  Products, systems, and efforts that work in new houses often need adaptation when applied to century-old structures. 

The fourth thing I have learned is that it is important to seek help when needed.  There’s always another expert—another person who has spent his/her own life figuring out solutions to exactly the problem that currently needs to be addressed.

Ah, the lessons I have learned firsthand while trying to renovate my old house!  I have struggled beyond belief with overcoming my expectation that things be perfect and with my frustration when jobs turn out less than perfectly!  Take for instance the effort of hanging the first two kitchen cabinets—the walls were wavy.  The floors were not level.  I spent hours—days—in frustration about spending so much money on cabinets only to have them turn out less than perfectly hung.  It was not until exerting monumental effort to hang a few more cabinets that I stood back and concluded, “Hey, they look pretty good!”

No, I am not Tom Silva, nor Norm Abrams, nor Steve Thomas, nor Bob Vila!  I don’t have to be.  I am Shirley Wright—wife, mother, grandmother, minister—one who has devoted large segments of her life to other efforts, but at the same time I can dabble with renovating an old house, one that doesn’t have to please anyone OTHER THAN KEN AND ME!

I have learned to be patient.  I can never set a time-clock such as the professionals might use and have my projects be completed on time.  Sometimes projects extend weekend after weekend after weekend.  Yet, when I set the goal and keep the goal before me, eventually I finish and can celebrate what has been accomplished.

I have learned to make frequent trips to Habersham Hardware or to Lowes’ to ask for help.  It’s amazing how many skilled folks there are in the world who ENJOY sharing their expertise.  It is only through the sharing from many of these folks that I now have a finished downstairs bathroom in my old house!

You may have realized by now that all of these are lessons that are important to learn about life—not simply about renovating an old house.  We are not perfect, and many of us struggle our whole lives with issues about not being perfect.  God’s desire is simply that we admit our shortcomings or our downfall or our mistakes along the way and let him help us use those to promote growth in our lives.  We need learn to be patient with ourselves.  God allows us the opportunity to make mistakes and to start all over again—both in relationship with him and in relationship with others.  But God calls us to never give up—never give up on life, never give up on relationship with him and or with others, never give up on efforts to make the world a better place.  God reminds us that we all need help from time to time.  We need to learn to lean on one another, to listen to one another, and to share our areas of expertise so that we can help each other have happier, more fulfilling lives! 

Today I give thanks for my old house—for the shelter that it provides, but also for the lessons that it has taught me along the way!  I give thanks for lessons that I have learned and continue to learn about imperfection, about patience, about persisting when things get tough, and with seeking need when it is needed.

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March 13, 2017 “The Wedding Cake—Inside and Out”

March 12, 2017

Wikipedia says that the wedding industry in America was worth 53.4 billion dollars in the year 2013.  Amazing!  Who would imagine that we spend that much money—perhaps even more in 2017—on weddings?  But when we think about the individual “pieces” of the industry—the clothing industry, the venues industry, the photography industry, and on and on—the costs add up!

I remember our own family’s involvement in planning a wedding and of trying to help the day live up to all our expectations.  I remember particularly our process of selecting the bakery.

It was important to go to various bakeries and to hear their “pitch” about the various sizes and shapes and descriptions of cakes they could make.  We heard about various kinds of layers and about the different kinds of icings they could put on top.  It was my first time to learn about fondant icings and to begin to understand how hard they are to make and why they, therefore, come at a premium price-tag.

We thought we had done our due diligence.  We selected the kind of layers we wanted, the kind of icing we wanted, the kind of design we wanted.  We left the cake-topper in their hands trusting that they would take great care of it and place it on top of the cake when it arrived at the reception venue.

The day came.  The cake arrived.  It was beautiful.  It lived up to our every expectation—lived up to our expectations insofar as looks are concerned.

The problem was that when we put the first bites into our mouths we had to fight back grimaces and make every effort, in polite company, to actually swallow what was there instead of spitting it out!  How could anything that looked so beautiful on the OUTSIDE be so terrible when we put it INSIDE our mouths and tried to swallow it?

Jesus had many words of warning about things that look good on the OUTSIDE but that fail miserably in terms of what is on the INSIDE.  Jesus had many words of admonition about folks who “talk the talk but fail to walk the walk.”

Lent is a time of year for self-examination.  It is an excellent time to pray the prayer, “Lord, help me not to simply talk the talk but to also walk the walk.  It is a time of year when we can look deep inside to see if we see there signs of the grace and love of Christ lived out in the world toward fellow human beings.

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March 6, 2017 “Daring Daffodils”

March 7, 2017

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon—a wonderful time for a drive along curvy mountain roads, soaking in the sun and the sights.  There it was—it burst before our eyes avalanche style!  We had to find a spot beside the narrow road to turn around and take in the sight more fully.

We parked in front of Serendipity Stained Glass on Scenic Highway 197 north of Clarkesville.  There are many beautiful pieces of art to see should one actually enter the shop, but on this day God alone provided His handcrafted beauty—hundreds, thousands of daffodils sprinkled densely down the hillside toward the road.  They were waving in the gentle breeze displaying their quiet, unassuming grandeur.  Their pops of golden color invaded visual space as if to say, “God’s in God’s heaven—all’s right with the world!

I remembered a sermon I heard decades ago—a sermon from the pulpit of the Decatur First Baptist Church.  The Reverend Dr. Peter Rhea Jones took his inspiration from the many daffodils dotting the expansive grounds of the church.  It was early in the season—the time of year when so often we watch the daffodils appear only to have them frozen by an unexpected chill in the weather.

Dr. Jones was a master of words, and he crafted a sermon title much like some build houses or fashion pieces of furniture.  His title for the sermon I remember so vividly was, “The Daring Daffodils of Decatur!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all pattern our lives after the daffodils?  Wouldn’t it be world-changing if we were all a bit more daring in terms of our outreach to people around us—people who are struggling and need a listening ear or a helping hand?  Wouldn’t it revolutionize relationships the world over if we saw everyone as God sees them and if we lived out patterns of love toward others in the way Jesus taught us to love.

Take a look at the daffodils.  Remember the “Daring Daffodils of Decatur” or of Winterville or Athens or Atlanta or wherever you live.  Ask God to help you be a bit more like the daffodils—being a bit more daring in your acts of kindness toward others that you encounter along your daily path.

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February 27, 2017 "Purpose"

March 1, 2017

So many times in life we struggle with purpose.  When we are in school and sick of a full day’s work but come home to still more assignments, we might say, “I fail to see the purpose of homework!”  As we move into jobs and find ourselves doing mountains of paperwork we often say, “I fail to see the purpose of so many reports!”  But we know that there are deeper issues of purpose with which we wrestle.  There are issues about the deeper meanings of life.

In The Purpose of Dogs,” Bailey wrestles with his purpose as he comes back to life many times, each time as a different breed.  But in the end, he concludes that there are three important purposes for any good dog while on earth. 

The first is:  Lick the ones you love!  It’s important for people, too, right?  Well, maybe not lick—but certainly hug, kiss, tell others that you love them!  We can find ourselves so busy or so caught up in other agenda items that we completely fail in doing those important things.  We can get so busy with tasks around the house that we forget to take appropriate time with children to hug them or to tuck them in at night or to share time with them that’s free from prompts to do their homework or to work harder for good grades.  We can get so worried about paying the bills or taking care of broken items around the house that all our time with a spouse is filled with stress-producing interactions.  Time to stop and lick—no hug/kiss—the ones we love!

The second is: Save someone if you can.  For Bailey the “saving” means pulling out of the water a person who is drowning.  You and I may have those opportunities for the literal kinds of saving in our lives.  Far more often, however, our saving may be listening to someone, ascertaining what the needs are, working to help with whatever that person’s need might be—in short, showing concern.  Showing concern goes further many times than we ever realize in completely changing the other person’s experience in life!

The third is: Be here now.  Bailey had the chance to be male and to be female, to be a Golden Retriever and to be a dachshund and to be various other breeds.  As people, our lives often feel far more dictated, more prescribed, for us than sometimes we would desire.  We can find ourselves always looking into someone else’s yard, so to speak, and declaring the grass greener on the other side of the fence.  But God’s desire for each of us is to find the good in our own lives, to see the opportunities spread before us, and to make the most out of the lives given to us—to be here now! 

Bailey discovered some important purposes for a dog’s life.  The lives of human beings might be far richer should they discover the same sense of purpose in their own lives!

 

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February 20, 2017 “Time to Clean Out the Basement”

February 20, 2017

We are moving along with the decades-long renovation of our old house, but upon reaching the state of completion that currently exists we must pause, take stock of what remains to be done, and establish next steps.  As we pause we realize that we now are in the state where we need closet space—space for clothes and shoes and sweaters that we wear every day--but there is a problem.  Until now closets have mostly served to store tools, wood purchased at the local Lowe’s, moldings that have been removed but not reinstalled.  All the items stored in the closets are important items.  We cannot throw them away.  They will serve a purpose at a later stage of our renovation, but for now they need to find a new home so that the closets may serve their designated purpose!

 

What can we do?  The thought pops into our minds that comes so very frequently for folks wondering where to put things in their homes, “Why not move all this stuff to the basement?”  Keep in mind that in your home it might be the attic or the garage; the same principal applies.

 

Yes, why not move all this stuff to the basement?  There’s one small problem.  Our basement looks like the typical basement belonging to anyone who hasn’t done a recent cleaning-out process.  Broken chairs cast aside with the intention of sooner or later getting them fixed, camping supplies held over from the last camping trip two decades ago, spare parts for items that have long ago been sent to the trash heap—all these wind up in our basements or attics or garages! 

 

Here's what we realize--until we get rid of the junk there’s no room for the good stuff!  A thorough, radical cleaning is the only thing that will help!

 

Jesus speaks volumes about thorough and radical kinds of cleaning, but for him the topic under discussion is not basements or attics or garages.  Instead the topic under discussion is our hearts and our lives.  Until we turn our hearts and lives over to God and allow God to do the thorough and radical kind of cleaning that is so desperately needed, there is no room for the good stuff—no room to fully experience God’s love, no room to fully connect with the people around us in the fullness of God’s love!  As we begin to ponder spring cleaning, may we also remember God’s calling to the cleaning—the washing white as snow—of our spiritual lives!

 

 

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February 13, 2017 “This Lonesome Valley”

February 12, 2017

Life can be filled with many lonely experiences.  We can be lonely when we are completely to ourselves for extended periods of time—ask anyone who has lost a spouse.  We can be lonely when we are going through difficult experiences and when it seems no one really understands.  We can even be lonely when in a room full of people!

 

There’s a song that sings about Jesus’ lonely experiences.  The words go, “Jesus walked this lonesome valley.  He had to walk it by himself.  Nobody else could walk it for him.  He had to walk it for himself.”

 

I drove the winding road from Commerce to Neese, all alone in the dark.  It was an entirely different experience from the many times I had traveled the road in the day.  The twisting lane with the long stretches between houses seemed lonely and forlorn.  I found myself ready to escape—ready to be back at home with lights on in the house!

 

Suddenly, though, a cross popped out at me in the night sky.  It was set a significant distance from the road and a sizeable stretch from the house where I imagined the persons who constructed it lived.  Though I had seen the cross in casual glances as I made my trips in the light, on this night it leaped out at me.  Draped in white lights, it seemed to speak out of the darkness that surrounded it.

 

It spoke to me about Jesus’ many lonely experiences in his life in this world—experiences that surely must have made him wrestle with his difficulties and to want to escape into some safe places with light surrounding him.  But the escape route he never pursued.

 

Instead, he placed himself wholely and completely into God’s hands.  He prayed the prayer about the cross, “Father, if this cup can pass from me, let it be so; nevertheless, not my will but yours be done!”

 

The long road to the cross most certainly for Jesus was lonely.  Even when he was surrounded by followers, even when he was surrounded by those who loved him, he experienced loneliness—loneliness because no one could completely understand his path of service to God, loneliness when sometimes they denied him and abandoned him, loneliness because the task of breathing the last breath and passing from this life to the next is a path each of us must travel without benefit of others to accompany us.

 

The thought reached out and grabbed me as I glimpsed the lighted cross by the side of the road in the dark—Jesus made his long, lonely journey so that I would never have to be alone.  Jesus made his long, lonely journey so that ultimately I would never be alone or afraid or helpless or hopeless.  In all these experiences, Christ is there—and that makes all the difference!

 

 

 

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February 6, 2017 “A Stitch in Time”

February 6, 2017

My heart was touched when he brought the crib-sized, handmade quilt and placed it in my lap with these words, “Can you stitch it back together?”  I hadn’t seen the quilt in decades—the quilt lovingly made by my grandmother when I was pregnant, the quilt loved and carried through many a mile of my son’s childhood pursuits.  It had seemed only logical that I take it out of its storage and take it to his house as soon as he began having children of his own.

 

But now it is tattered.  The blocks are coming apart from one another.  The blocks are coming loose from the background.  The binding is coming unsewn.  There is hardly a seam in the whole quilt that is entirely intact.

 

What touched my heart was his recognition of this—this gift from the third generation removed from him—as something to be mended and brought back to life for his own children and potentially future generations of children to enjoy.  After all we live in a throw-away world.  We live in a world where everything carries a pricetag and where things without a high dollar value are often cast aside, thrown into the trash heap, replaced by something of greater dollar value!

 

But who can put a pricetag on stitches made by loving hands eagerly anticipating the birth of a great grandchild?  Who can put a pricetag on items that have weathered childhood and that beg for the opportunity to weather the escapades of future generations of children?

 

My hands will grasp the quilt with memories flooding into my brain—memories of the sweet woman who made the quilt, memories of my child who carried it in his arms or dragged it behind him wherever he went.  More importantly, however, my hands will grasp the needle and the thread with a committed heart and with dogged determination to preserve that which needs to be preserved.  My hands will be relentless until the stitch in time is complete!

 

It occurred to me—just as we are casual about items in the world around us, so are we casual about people in the world around us.  We sometimes will cast people aside or devalue people and replace them with “newer, better” models. 

 

But what if?  What if we were convinced of the value of people—people like ourselves, people different from ourselves, people who are easy to love, people who are hard to loved?  What if we made the commitment to protect and preserve relationships?  What if we dedicated ourselves to the hard work of repairing relationships that may be broken?  “A stitch in time saves nine,” says the old expression!

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January 30, 2017 “Plumbers and Other Folks of Varying Opinions”

January 30, 2017

It seemed like a milestone moment—like we were finally on the home stretch!  Little did we know the hours of consternation and deliberation that lay ahead!

 

The tile was laid—not perfectly, of course—but we were happy with the outcome.  The tile having been finished, it was time to move on to the plumbing installation. 

 

Late one evening I looked at the tile as it meets the toilet flange.  I realized the flange had not yet been screwed to the floor and decided to look at recommendations online as to the best modes of attachment to the floor.  That’s when the difficulty set in!

 

That search online took me to a host of discussions and YouTube videos on the topic.  The very first I encountered hit me square between the eyes!  The flange was to go on TOP of the tile, but I had cut the tile short—just to the edge of the tile.

 

The first response—well, self-castigation, of course.  How could I have been so dumb?  How could I have missed such an important aspect of tile-laying/plumbing installation protocol?  And more importantly still, what does one do to correct such a ghastly error?

 

I placed a call to Ken lamenting our grievous error.  Then came WEEKS of research, seeking out the best solution.  That’s when I realized that plumbers certainly do have varying opinions about the most basic of topics in the plumbing world! 

 

One YouTube video lauded the benefits of spacers to fill the gap should someone have made the grievous error I had made!  I was prepared to place the online order for the recommended spacers, but then Ken warned, “Well, sure he recommends spacers!  His business is spacers that he devised!”

 

With those words of caution, I searched other sources online, but I would not limit such an important quest to online only.  Instead I went to the local hardware, a source of help with a host of other DIY projects around our old house.  I felt vindicated about my laying the tile just to the edge of the flange when a clerk at the hardware—one who has given decades to the plumbing task—looked aghast at the report I had read about installing the flange ON TOP OF THE TILE.  Despite his incredulity, he showed me an array of spacers and flanges.  The flange already on the floor at my old house, of course, he considered to be inferior, so he sold me a new one.  He questioned the validity of EVER using a spacer—too much possibility for leaks.  The leaking tendency he saw to be dealt with best by appropriate wax rings.  He sold me a new one—a better model!  Then came the discussion between himself and other plumbers in the store about how many wax rings.  Some said two.  One said to install the horned wax ring and then to cut a plain wax ring in half and put it on top!  Of course, online sources said to never, never use two wax rings!

 

I became weary!  If folks can disagree so vehemently about something so simple as a toilet installation, how much more might we disagree on other topics—on matters of faith, on matters of life and death within our families!  

 

I was in at a stalemate.  How could I move forward?  With all the disagreement about toilet installation, how could I make a decision and begin the actual work?  I decided to weigh all the opinions one against the other.  But I decided that in the final analysis it’s a matter of the heart.  Reading, studying, listening—all very important, but I must move forward trusting that my heart is pointing me in the right direction.

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January 23, 2017 “Who Knew?”

January 23, 2017

Who knew that the house a girl grew up in could seem half as large on return visits decades later?  Who knew that the hills and red dirt banks that appeared virtually insurmountable in efforts to scale them in her childhood could appear mere rises in the terrain as seen with adult eyes?  Who knew that the long distances to neighbors’ houses on foot or on bikes for a girl and her brother could seem a few short paces to the adult returning to her hometown?

 

Who knew that Rutherford County, North Carolina—a county once abounding in textile mills—could take one of those plants, “re-invent” it, and have it serve as a technological hub for Facebook—one of a few in the world?  Who knew that the specific textile plant that was the job site for a dad for most of his working life—one that, as it closed displaced thousands of workers, could come alive once again and provide employment in a depressed area?

 

Who knew that Southern Company could find a little community called Sandy Mush, (so named for the sand that blew into the livermush as they cooked it over an open fire) buy some 489 acres, and install 289,104 fixed-tilt, monocrystalline solar panels?  Who could ever imagine so many panels planted where a pine forest once grew—an investment in clean energy for generations to come?

 

Who could imagine a downtown—once thriving with businesses—more than four decades later struggling but hanging on and still displaying its simple, quiet charm with a tree-line median, park benches, and water fountain?  Who knew that an approach to a home-state and hometown, after living most of one’s life in other places, could still manage to tug at the heart and stir feelings of, “I’m home again”?

 

Who knew that one’s ears could, after being surrounded by dialects and patterns of speech from many other places, so easily find comfort in the voices from home?  Who knew how easily one can resume relationship with people from childhood after having so seldom kept in touch?  Who knew how good it can feel to the once-in-an-occasional-while kind of visitor to show up on a relative’s doorstep, have her struggle for a bit with recognition, but then TO CALL HER NAME?

 

Who knew?  Well, we all knew.  We know—we have always known—that some things will change—change in ways we would never have imagined.  But other things will never change—no matter how long we are away.  I am thankful that love shared with important people in our lives will never change.  No matter how long we are away we can renew our conversation with one another and our love for one another any time that we may meet again.  Most of all I am thankful that my relationship with God is like that.  Sometimes I may wander further away than is good for our relationship.  But whenever I show up God calls my name and welcomes me home!

 

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January 16, 2017 “Child of God”

January 16, 2017

It is a beautiful arrangement of “Jesus Loves Me.”  It begins with a countermelody with the words, “We are all God’s children.  We are all God’s children.  We are all God’s children; we are one in the Lord.”  Then the choir begins singing familiar words, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”  Finally the words we learned in childhood and stored deep within our souls make their appearance, the choir singing with gusto, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

 

It was the perfect song for a perfect day—a perfect day in the life of the church.  What makes a perfect day in the life of the church?  Well, most any day is a perfect day in the life of the church because we are all God’s children, and we are gathered to share fellowship with one another, to love and support one another, and to praise our God who gave us the gift of life and of relationships.  But on this particular perfect day we were to experience one of God’s special means of grace.  We were to baptize a little one into the life of faith, to declare our love to her and to her family and to pledge our willingness to nurture her in the Christian way until she could profess faith all on her own.

 

She was a beauty, held in the arms of her parents—dark hair, big eyes, beautiful white dress chosen especially for this day.  She smiled with all the charm any baby could muster, and she occupied herself with first one thing and then another all through the words of the liturgy, unaware of the heart-wrenching emotion filling all those gathered at the front of the church and sitting in the pews nearby. 

 

Then came the moment—that moment they had rehearsed, prepared for with due diligence.  I have seen the importance of it all through my ministry—the act of holding the baby before his/her big day, the practicing a rocking motion or whatever it is that calms the little one, speaking to him/her gently all the while.  But we all must know that no matter how much rehearsal we may do, how much rocking or gentle words we may have readied, little ones are always in charge.  And so it was on this day.  Hannah did not like being taken from her mother, did not appreciate water on her head, did not want to be paraded around the church to meet her new family—the church.  And so she did what babies always do.  She cried out her protest as diligently as she was able.

 

I was reminded of the Psalms and all the gentle words of praise and assurance in the life of faith that the Psalmist so often lifts up, “The Lord is my shepherd…” or “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help.”  But the Psalmist also was noted for lifting up powerful words of protest to God when circumstances of life were not those that were desired.  Perhaps the most poignant of these is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”

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January 9, 2017 “Milk, Bread, and Eggs”

January 9, 2017

Milk, bread, and eggs—if they appeared as a category in Jeopardy anyone who grew up in the South would immediately supply the winning answer, “Things to buy to be ready for a snowstorm!”  If there were any uncertainty as to the validity of the answer just make a trip to the grocery store in the LATE stage of preparedness for a snowstorm—you know, twelve hours or so before the first flake falls—and you’ll have tangible evidence—empty shelves of bread, empty cooler space where milk used to be, open shelves containing nothing more than cartons filled with cracked eggs rejected by first and second-stage-preparedness shoppers!

Faith has much to say to us about being prepared.  I had a college friend whose favorite category with regard to faith was the “readiness” topic—being ready for the Second Coming of Christ. I admit, however, that at the time it was not my favorite category.  His language of gloom and doom sent shivers down my spine and made me want to pull the covers over my head in bed so as to be totally oblivious to his end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios.

After all, I was a young adult.  The picture of my life that I saw in my head was one of meeting the right—Wright man (pun intended)—getting married, having children, enjoying life together, loving God, loving one another, loving people in the world around me.

Thanks be to God!  That picture became a reality for me.  And in my senior years I am learning to say, “Hey, preparedness is a good thing, and it doesn’t have to be gloom and doom!”  Instead,  preparedness can be about leaning into the plan that God has made for each one of us since the beginning of time.  It can be about that sense that as God peers into our lives He finds us loving one another, caring for one another, and enjoying the life He has provided.

I’ll keep going to the grocery store to buy milk and bread and eggs each time a snowstorm is in the forecast.  After all, I am a true southerner!  I don’t know how to prepare in any other way.  But as I prepare for end-times or for the end of my time on this earth, I will love my life, love the people around me, and, despite mistakes I have made along the way, I will relish hearing the voice of a gracious God saying, “Well, done, good and faithful servant!”  Thanks be to God I no longer have to pull the covers over my head in bed! 

 

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January 2, 2017 “Sidewalk Chalk”

January 1, 2017

The package arrived by UPS just in time for the Christmas visit with the grandchildren.   The contents—as seen on TV—had been beyond resistance from the granddaddy who had ordered them.

Giant sidewalk chalk—quite a treasure in and of itself—but imagine a sturdy holder some 36 inches in length that allows its user to stand comfortably while crafting sidewalk art instead of crouching to wear out knees and legs!  Why grandparents can become sidewalk artists themselves instead of leaving projects to the younger generation!

So the holders filled with the giant chalk made their way to the park, clutched by proud grandchildren sure that they were the coolest folks anywhere near Winterville!  But sidewalk art was only part of the fun that day.  There were monkey bars for demonstrating skills.  There were swings accompanied by cries, “push me higher—higher!”  Then there was the slack line tethered between two trees, a newly-acquired Christmas gift for one of the parents.  As nearly as I can tell its purpose is to make adults look stupid as they struggle painstakingly across, with children gliding along effortlessly, giggling all the while.

But back to the sidewalk chalk--I began thinking how no one gets upset about chalk.  Magic markers—yes!  Paint—major problem!  But there’s no problem with sidewalk chalk because with the first rain it’s gone and a clean canvas emerges, waiting for more art!

Funny—because those sweet memories are never-ending!  They never wash away!  They epitomize the expression we often use, “Etched in stone!”

I believe God smiles in heaven each time we have a sweet memory etched into our hearts that stems from good times together.  May we bring lots of smiles to the face of God during this new year!

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December 26, 2016 “All Things New”

December 27, 2016

My dad worked in a factory all of his life.  When it was time to buy clothes or shoes for my brother and me, my parents had to plan those purchases very carefully because money was never in abundance.  The clothes I wore were made by my mother—an effort that saved my parents tremendous amounts of money.  Often the fabric used for my outfits was left over from garments made for other people as my mother worked at home sewing for a little extra money.  Other times the fabric was recycled from sacks of flour purchased at the grocery store. 

But one dress from my childhood stands out among all the others I ever wore!  I remember it in vivid detail.  The fabric was baby blue.  It had a Peter-Pan collar with handmade lace on the edge.  All across the front was pink smocking that I thought to be the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  My grandmother had smocked the dress, and my mother did the sewing. 

That new dress made me feel like a million dollars.  Every time I wore it I marveled at the beauty of the blue fabric and the wonderful design stitched in pink across the front.  Every time I wore it I felt there was something new and something special about me as well!

In just days’ times we will be standing at the door of a new year!  It is a time that prods us to look backward in our lives, to review the year 2016.  What was there that was good, that bears repeating?  Where did we invest ourselves in good and productive ways?  What are the things we did that were pleasing to God?

Where, on the other hand, are the areas where we would desire change—something new?  Maybe we feel stuck in some ways—stuck in a job that’s unrewarding, stuck in doing the same things over and over again.  Maybe we desire some new and fulfilling relationships in our lives.  Maybe as we look backward in time we realize the miss-spent energy we invested—the same arguments, the same destructive patterns of relationships in our lives.

As we face the new year may we remember that God is there for us to strengthen us and to give us guidance and wisdom for living.  In John’s revelation—Revelation 21:5—we hear the words, “Behold, I make all things new.”

So often as we try to do things all on our own we will struggle.  We will stay stuck in negative patterns of relationship.  We will look in all the wrong directions for fulfilling jobs or for  new and positive relationships in life.  But with God’s help we can discover the “new” that He has in store for us.  Thanks be to God for a new year placed in front of us.  May we discover all the joy and promise that it can provide!

 

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