Winterville United Methodist Church

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

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Blog posts : "General"

January 16, 2017 “Child of God”

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”

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”

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”

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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December 19, 2016 “Epiphanies”

When asked about their most memorable Christmas, individuals can usually pinpoint one Christmas among many, many others that is special in some way.  For some it may have been the culmination of an otherwise very difficult year—lean and mean financially, yet Santa showed up with some small treat that made the holiday magical.  For some it may have been that a parent serving in the military was not supposed to be present but an early release allowed that mom or dad to show up and to be the delight of sons and/or daughters.

My mom in her early adult life had numerous sad Christmases following my dad’s untimely death.  But after some time, she married my step-father who was like a child in his anticipation of Christmas!  In particular, he loved to help plan for the gifts that Santa would leave at our home.  I suspect that our first Christmas as a family was the most memorable for my mom.  It certainly was my most memorable experience of Christmas as a child.

Santa happened to be working at a party near our house.  My dad decided to break all rules—no tucking us into bed, no harsh reprimands about going to sleep before Santa would arrive, no fitful sleep and then getting up in the wee hours of the morning.  Instead my dad planned the timetable such that as soon as we got home from my Grandparents’ home there would be a knock at the door.  My brother and I were the ones encouraged to answer the door.

Imagine our surprise and wonder that Santa would show up with gifts in hand.  Imagine how shocking that we—among all the children of the world—would be privileged to see Santa at work firsthand delivering our gifts instead of our simply showing up in the living room the next morning with the gifts spread under the tree!

As I reflect on that special year I wonder that I never speculated as to why Santa had never made a person-to-person visit on Christmas Eve prior to that event.  And what’s more, in subsequent years I never wondered why he didn’t show up person-to-person on that Christmas Eve as well.  I suppose I simply concluded that Santa shows up when Santa shows up—that there is no human manipulation or human action in creating the “epiphany.”

As persons of faith we know that “epiphany” has to do with an appearing.  God has special epiphanies that he makes in our lives.  We are not in charge.  Epiphanies are not at our command.  We don’t control them.  Instead we simply ask God to prepare our minds and our hearts, and we ask God to make our eyes open when epiphanies are set to occur.  We pray, “God, help me to see you and to see the meaning of Christmas as a poor child awakens to Christmas surprises not otherwise possible apart from the help of generous people.  Help me to see you in the faces of people spread across the news—those in war-torn areas or in impoverished nations who still are able to capture a sense of hope through the manger event.  Help me to see you as Christians gather together on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day to read the age-old story and to sing, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!”

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December 12, 2016 “Carving”

I am fascinated with wood carvers.  When I look at a piece of wood I see a piece of wood, but a master carver can look at a piece of wood and see the item that it can become.


Many of us have stopped by the side of the road on a trip to the North Georgia mountains to see the work of a carver whose tool of the trade is a chain saw.  If we are lucky we actually get to see this work in progress.


The canvas is a huge log—roughly chopped and standing on end.  The master carver pulls the cord on his high-decibel chain saw and sets to work.  Like Edward Scissorhands he maneuvers the implement of his trade, all the while shavings blowing in every direction.


Observers stand nearby talking among themselves.  Sometimes they make guesses as to what will emerge from the artist’s canvas.  They look at previously created works and wonder, “Is he making another bear?  A moose?  A totem pole?”


Under the skillful touch of the artist’s hands the desired shape begins to emerge.  With wonder and delight the onlookers begin to clap.  The eagle appears to have been set free from the cumbersome log.  The shavings have flown into the wind like chaff, and in the process the eagle’s wings appear ready to take flight, to glide in the breeze and soar to the heights.


In this season of Advent the theme of carving can be tremendously important—important both in the sense of ourselves as carvers but God being a carver as well.  We are busy—so busy with all the parties and tasks of the season that it is often hard to find a moment in time for God.  Maybe today, as we move toward the fourth Sunday of Advent, we can picture ourselves—chainsaw in hand, working with relentless speed and dexterity toward carving out time for God. 


And in those quiet moments—in that time alone with God—maybe we can picture God, the Master Carver.  May we see him at work chipping away the chaff, the things in our lives that weigh us down.  May we see the picture beginning to emerge.  May we see ourselves as eagles, wings perched, ready to glide in the breeze and to soar to heights we never imagined.

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December 5, 2016 “Quiet Spot on the Corner”

Most folks have some word of wisdom to share regarding real estate purchases.  There’s the adage, “Location, location, location”!  Then there’s the wisdom from my mother-in-law.  She would say, "Always buy the house on the corner!"  I don't fully understand all her reasons, but she seemed to like a house visible from the front but with a side providing a generous lawn also with a view from the street.


This weekend I was filled with excitement and anticipation about the first Christmas in Winterville that Ken and I would experience.  In our early days after the move we heard good news about Christmas in the Park on the first weekend in December.  I eagerly anticipated that event, but in particular I wanted to learn how the Live Nativity at Winterville United Methodist might interplay with the hub-bub of that event.


I arrived early.  The stable on the church lawn was empty as if announcing its preparedness to receive a pregnant mother and anxious dad--or at least a couple assuming the role!  It was quiet except for a few noises from sheep and goats that had already been delivered by animal owners excited that their flocks had been chosen for such important work on this weekend.


I made my way to the park.  It was busy there—difficult to thread one’s way through the crowds.  Our helpful and experienced police force had cordoned off Church Street, allowing the Winterville Train to make its way uninterrupted to the park entrance.  A blue light and momentary blare from the police cruiser made everyone aware that festivities had begun. 


Moving along the sidewalk toward the pavilion I realized that I was part of an entourage as Santa and Ms. Claus made their way to their assigned booth.  As I entered the pavilion I noticed the common thread that so often draws people together—a desire for community, yes!, a desire to be a part of supporting children, yes!, but we can’t forget another important factor—food!  Hot dogs and hot chocolate—they were in abundance, much to the delight of the crowds.


There was one point of dismay in my experience of Christmas in the Park for my first Christmas in Winterville.  As groups of children took their places to sing songs that they had learned for the occasion, the crowds could hardly be distracted from their tasks of finding hot dogs, reaching for mustard, calling to others in their groups that they had located the essential items!  Children sang dutifully as they had been trained to do, but I—and I assume others besides myself—could not hear their music.  It reminded me of how often important things take place, but we are too loud and too busy to take them in—take the Bethlehem event, for instance.


I was MORE than happy to go back across Church Street and to find my way to a place in front of the manger.  I was filled with joy about our quiet spot on the corner of Main and Parkview because there Mary and Joseph and shepherds and kings alongside sheep and goats in a simple, unassuming way reminded anyone, amid the hub-bub, of the true focus of the season.


My mother-in-law was right!  Look for the quiet spot on the corner!  Good things happen there!


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November 28, 2016 “More, Please!”

As families gather together for holidays and various celebrations inevitably “treasures” come our way that we will never forget.  One of those happened this past week as my three children, their spouses, and our eleven grandchildren came for Thanksgiving.


Sleeping arrangements for Thanksgiving night were under discussion.  The six adults—children and their spouses—opted for locations OTHER THAN the high-decibel climate of the church parsonage where MaMaw, Granddaddy, and nine of the eleven grandchildren would try to settle down for rest and perhaps even a little shut-eye!


Lily Mae, our youngest, decided to protest the arrangement as soon as the announcement came that it was time for bed.  But wanting to avoid disturbing Mom and Dad and causing them to have to make a return trip to the parsonage to retrieve the youngest of the lot, the older sisters did some quick thinking.  It seemed to them in the moment that all Lily Mae needed was some logical reason why her mother was noticeably absent and some reassurance of her quick return.


“Mommy’s gone out to get doughnuts,” they said.  Lily Mae bought the explanation hook, line, and sinker.  While it may not be the best thing in the world to have Mommy out of sight, a two-year-old can console herself with the promise of a sweet reunion in the near future as well as with the promise of a favorite literal bit of sweetness!


The nodding off to sleep was a bit touch-and go, but the watching of favorite cartoons from a soft spot on the pull-out sofa nestled between two caring sisters soon lulled the two-year old into the much-needed shut-eye!  The next day Mommy returned just as promised.   Mommy—after some prompts from the grandparents of the necessity of not coming home empty-handed—arrived doughnuts in hand!


Lily Mae had resisted any encouragement toward eggs for breakfast.  Instead she held out for her doughnut!  Her eyes lighted up like high-beam headlights as Mommy brought the boxes into the house.  She gobbled the first one down, announced to her parents that it was all gone.  Then she asked for another one of the sweet convections!  Her mother hesitated and told her to ask her father—just what any thinking parent would do!


Lily Mae tried again.  “More pwease,” she said in her best pleading, two-year-old voice!  Then, as if for emphasis, she formed her two hands into circles made with the index fingers meeting the thumbs and then tapped the two circles together.  The gesture was one taught to her even before language could develop.  “More!”  said her two hands as the finger-circles tapped one another.


It's the time of year for more—more sweetness, more graciousness, more goodness, more peace, more of the sitting in the presence of a Christ Child born in a manger.  Thank God we never have to plead or to beg.  We don’t have to scream or gesture with finger circles.  Instead God is there for the asking—there to grant us infinite numbers of opportunities to encounter the Christ Child!


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November 21, 2016 “Over the River and Through the Wood”

Public school music was scarce in my day.  Occasionally the school contracted with a musician who came in one day a week and taught all eight grades of students one class at a time in the school gymnasium.  But somehow in those lean days of school music we learned a few of the “classics.”  “Over the River and Through the Wood” was one of them!”

            Over the river and through the wood to Grandmother’s house we go.

            The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.

            Over the river and through the wood, oh how the wind does blow!

            It stings the toes and bites the nose as over the ground we go!


The song was far from the reality we lived.  Most of us could walk or ride in our cars the short distances to our grandparents’ homes—forget “the wood” part.  None of us—my school mates and I—had ever seen a sleigh, and even if we had, we all knew it never snows in North Carolina in November.  We would never expect “white and drifting snow” for Thanksgiving!  But maybe—just maybe—we could expect a little stirring wind—wind to “sting the toes and bite the nose!”


Despite its less-than-accurate description of our Thanksgiving experience we sang that song with gusto!  Somehow it stirred within us a sense of anticipation about time with family and friends around a shared table of food.


And speaking of tables—how the tables have turned!  I am no longer singing about nor anticipating heading to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.  Instead I am the Grandmother, and grandchildren are beginning to show up at my house for our family’s time together! 


The song does no more for depicting my grandchildren’s experience of Thanksgiving than it did for me.  They know nothing of snow for Thanksgiving, especially the ones who live in South Florida.  Probably none of the eleven has even seen nor ridden in a sleigh.  Yet, hopefully this new generation can sing the song with a great sense of anticipation about coming to Grandmother’s house just as much as did I!  


The blessings of God continue!  They go on generation after generation after generation.  I certainly can raise to God a hearty, “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to be a grandmother!”


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November 14, 2016 “The Remnant of God”

God calls the prophet Haggai to speak to the “remnant”—those who have been taken into captivity in Babylon but who now are able to return.  The remnant—the small band of the people of God must have been daunted by the task to which God was calling them—rebuilding the temple and restoring it to its former glory.

As a child I heard the word, “remnant” often, but it was used in connection with fabric—scraps left over from my mother’s dressmaking endeavors for sewing customers.  Some would consider them worthless—ready for the trash—but mother saw their value and crafted them into the clothes that I wore.  But even after making my clothes there were leftover remnants though smaller still.  These my mother turned over to my grandmother for use in the quilts she made.

I can remember lying in bed at night under the weight of quilts.  When I couldn’t immediately go to sleep I turned my attention to quilt squares and tried to remember the original garments from which the squares were cut.  I could label them—grandmother’s dress, granddaddy’s shirt, mother’s skirt!  It was truly amazing—these tiny scraps that were now woven into a beautiful whole.

I am thankful to a God who speaks to the remnant—to people who sometimes consider themselves as too few in number or resources—to make an impact.  I am thankful God calls us to bring who we are and what we have and to trust him to make something amazing from it all.  I am thankful to God who cherishes each one of us—a God who never throws anyone away or casts them aside—but rather loves them into the kingdom!  I am thankful for a God whose work always is toward weaving us into a beautiful whole!

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November 7, 2016 “Have a Picnic”

My birthday is just around the corner, and as my birthday approaches I always begin thinking about how I’d like to spend my time—about some of the things I’d like to do to celebrate.  I am at the age, of course, when there are things much more important than gifts to unwrap, and most of those involve having good times, doing fun things with special friends and family.

Obviously I’m not a summertime birthday person.  By November 17 the weather in Georgia normally has cooled off considerably.  But I am a summertime person in terms of one of my favorite things to do!  I love, love, love picnics!

I can remember one November when I decided that something I really wanted to do during my birthday month was to go on a picnic on Sunday after church.  I made great food.  We went to church and on to our picnic site, but even the bravest of souls could only manage to stay at the picnic table long enough to gobble down a very few bites of food!  

My family always says, “Never let Shirley plan a picnic because you can be sure that whenever she does the weather will be horrible—cold, rainy, windy or some combination thereof!”  I think they might have over-stated that just a bit; yet, I can think of a time in August—August when it’s supposed to be sunny and 95 degrees—that Ken and I ate fried chicken and enjoyed the view from Brasstown Bald sitting in the car as opposed to from the picnic table!

Sometimes we simply find ourselves—summertime people living in a wintertime world.  And sometimes we plant ourselves in summertime surroundings only to have winter intrude on our existence!  So what do we do?  Have a picnic ANYWAY!

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October 31, 2016 “For All the Saints”

Grandma Holland—my Mom’s mom—could pour the warm water over my hair with a cup in a magical way so as not to get a drop of shampoo in my eyes!  I always wanted her to be the one to perform the shampoo job after a long day of play.  Grandpa Holland could take his pocket knife and use it to form a perfect spiral of peelings as he prepared apples for my brother, me, and our cousins as we waited patiently in line.  I vowed that one day I’d be just like him!  I would be able to keep the spiral going from the apple’s top to the apple’s bottom with never a gap in the continuous peeling.  Grandma Biggerstaff—my Dad’s mom—could always manage to have the best pies and baked goods ready to serve us even though we most times showed up unannounced for visits.  She made “stickies” when my brother and I went over to spend the night.  They were delights of rolled up dough stuffed with brown sugar and butter, cut into rolls, and baked in the oven.  I vowed I would make them for my own grandchildren one day.  So far I haven’t!  Grandpa Biggerstaff was an amazingly quiet man who had the kindest, gentlest spirit you would ever want to find in a man.  I remember him for taking the daily shopping list in hand as my grandmother produced it and dutifully driving to the nearby country store to get the things needed for her to cook.  I rarely saw my mother without fabric in hand working at the sewing machine or without scissors and thread and thimble for doing hand-sewing as she sat in her rocker watching “Love of Life.”   Her life had held much tragedy, including the early death of my father; yet, she never lost her love for life.  I will always remember my step-father who came along to fill the loneliness, the void, left in my mother’s life, but more than that I will cherish the man who so readily took on two of another man’s preschool children to raise all the way to adulthood.  I will remember aunts and uncles and church members from our tiny country church, all of whom had a part in helping to encourage my brother and me and to help us become the adults we ultimately became.

We can all tell such stories—stories about people who were important to us, people who nurtured us and brought us up in the life of faith.  The Christian faith takes seriously the lived heritage in faith.  It celebrates the lives of people who have gone before us in faith, who now are residents in heaven.  And although we need to give thanks for these folks every day of our lives and celebrate their contributions to our lives and to the lives of people around us EVERY day, the church established November1 as All Saints Day.  Most churches observe the day on the first Sunday in November.  May we all spend time this week as we approach All Saints Sunday to recall specific stories of saints who have been important to us.  May we thank God for how these stories—the witness of these folks—have woven themselves into our lives much like the seamstress takes the individual pieces of fabric to form a beautiful garment!  The song, “For All the Saints” expresses well our praise and thanksgiving, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed. Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.  Alleluia! Alleluia!”

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October 24, 2016 “Not for the Faint of Heart”

On the church lawn for the day was a herd of goats, the petting zoo attraction for the children.  As it turns out, there was more interest in the goats from the adults in attendance than from the children.  Why—because part of the reputation of the herd was that it had a few “fainting goats” among its members!

            I had heard about the phenomenon of fainting goats, but I was never quite sure if they really existed or if they were simply an urban legend, and, if actually in existence, I was curious under what conditions a goat “faints.”

            Wikipedia has an apparent answer.  Some goats experience “fainting” when startled or alarmed.  (Apparently the adults who participated in loud noises, cap flapping, and stamping at the goats in the desire to see firsthand a fainting episode were on the right track!)  The goats do not actually faint in the sense of losing consciousness.  Rather their muscles stiffen and tighten to the point that they do sometimes fall down.  It is a condition labeled myotonia congenita.  As goats get older they learn to deal with the situation by managing to lean against something—another goat or a fence—so that the stiffening does not result in falling down—an excellent coping mechanism in my opinion!

            In our world we hear the adage, “Aging is not for the faint of heart!”  We could apply that to all of us, for we day-by-day are all aging.  And day by day we have experiences in our lives that challenge us, that cause us to wonder how we will cope or make it through the difficult time. Our fear is that we will “fall” and never be able to recover from the difficulty.

            Our God is there for us—the faint of heart!  And as we learn to call upon and to lean upon him we may struggle and we may lament our difficulties, but we will never fall, unable to rise again!       

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October 17, 2017 “What I Need to Know I Can Learn from a Giraffe”

Folks who visit my office catch on fairly quickly to the fact that I love giraffes.  I have a giraffe batik for the wall.  I have a giraffe from Haiti, a gift from a church member’s mission trip.  I have a cloisonné giraffe from China, a gift from my daughter’s college trip abroad.  Many are carved out of wood and come from Africa; another is made from compressed pecan shells.  I have picture frames that feature giraffes and plates with artists’ renderings of giraffes.  Perhaps my most unusual giraffe object is a drawing of a church I served.  It was their parting gift to me—a beautiful realistic view of the church featuring an inset of a rock wall that surrounded the property with actual children from the church of that day sitting on the wall.  But surprisingly, guess what shows up on the church lawn—well, giraffes, of course!

So why so many giraffes?  Why the interest in giraffes?

I love their beautiful coat.  They look as though a thoughtful, creative painter gave each his/her one-of-a-kind coat!  (Yes, that thoughtful, creative painter would be God!)  I love how their long necks enable them to reach for food all other animals might miss.  (Yes, they see the world of possibility many others might miss!)  But most of all I like the graceful way that they move about on their long, lanky legs with heads in the clouds.

               It’s not always easy to move about in graceful—or grace-filled—lives with heads in the clouds!  As human beings we are far more apt to get bogged down.  We get caught up in what someone says about us, and we allow those comments to destroy our day!  We allow criticism to determine how we feel about ourselves!  We are likely to take negative words and to wallow in the feelings they create for days—even months on end.

            By having one’s head in the clouds I don’t mean to suggest that we live our lives removed from reality and certainly not removed from the world of relationships.  Relationships give our lives meaning and purpose!  Neither do we need to be totally removed from criticism offered by others, for CONSTRUCTIVE criticism—criticism that is honest, fair, and offered in the right spirit—provides tremendous potential for us to learn and to grow.  But when we leave the world of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and move into comments designed to hurt, to demoralize, and to destruct then we need to allow the giraffe to be our model.

            Our starting point can be the picture of the giraffe moving gracefully above the fray, its head stuck in the clouds seeing parts of life that others might miss.  Our starting point can be in prayer asking God for an experience of the grace-filled life that surely he intends for each one of us!

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October 10, 2016 “Through the Eyes of a Child”

As I write I am preparing for a time of celebration with our youngest granddaughter, Lily Mae.  She recently turned two, and her mom and dad have invited her granddaddy and me, as well as her grandmother on her dad’s side, to a time at Disney in Orlando.

Lily Mae has a tiny face with giant eyes of wonder and delight.  She has a sunny disposition and a smile that will light up any room. 

No doubt we can expect to capture many pictures of her eyes of wonder and her bright smiles as she has a chance to enter the Magic Kingdom and to become friends with Mickey and Minnie and Donald and all the characters she has come to know and love! 

William Wordsworth wrote a poem entitled, “Ode: Immitations of Immortality.”  The long poem is something of a lament as heard in the words, “The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” 

Wordsworth, of course, does not mean to imply a literal inability to “see.”  Instead he wants to convey that sense of the “magical,” the mystical, the ethereal that so easily are a part of a child’s everyday experience somehow becomes lost in the world of the adult.  He decries the sense in which rainbows and roses and the light of the moon become common, everyday objects that no longer produce magical delight as adults behold them.

Wordsworth understands this phenomenon to stem from the fact that children have an undeniable connection to heaven and heavenly things.  In the aging process, however, Wordsworth understands human beings to experience a “forgetting” of things heavenly.  There is a loss of the “magic,” a waning of wonder and delight, a lessening of the joy conjured up from simple things and simple experiences in life.

I am thankful for grandchildren.  Perhaps they are a part of God’s way of reminding us of the wonder and delight we knew at a different stage of our lives.  Perhaps, just as we receive literal invitations to the Magic Kingdom, we also gain opportunities to see the world once again through the eyes of a child.  And if we pause long enough—if we don’t hurry on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing—maybe we will remember the things heavenly. Maybe we will re-connect to the wonder and the joy of life that God intends.



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October 4, 2016 “Exercise Your Mind”

As I lay down to sleep I thought of each person and where each had sat on the bus on our trip to and from the North Georgia mountains.  I called each by name and prayed a prayer for each one.

When I awoke this morning I made coffee, sat down at the kitchen table, prepared to drink a cup, and in my hands were two books—my Bible and a book by an author that I know well.  It’s called, Mindful Morning, by David Dillard Wright.

David, my second son, is a Professor of Religion and Philosophy at University of South Carolina, Aiken.  He is concerned about “mindful” approaches to life, about our escaping from the stressors of everyday life even if only a few minutes a day.  He wants us to value and live into the full joy that God intends for each one of us. 

And so I read today a segment called “Exercise Your Mind.”  Exercise is not what you might think—not stretching and straining, not trying to solve a deep-rooted problem in the world or in personal life.  Instead “exercising the mind” insofar as this segment is concerned is about savoring moments, about recalling the beauty in nature experienced at another point in time and about allowing those moments—now past—to refresh and prepare for the day with a different sort of attitude and outlook than might otherwise be possible.

I recalled patches of sunflowers that stretched on in the fields for what seemed FOREVER!  I recalled blue mountains that popped up out of nowhere at the edge of the sky.  I felt the cool breeze as I gazed out at mountain peaks now at my fingertips.  I experienced the rush of the water off the mountain’s edge and marveled at its power and grandeur.  I reveled in the sounds of conversation and of laughter as friends enjoyed each other’s company.

I read Proverbs 3, verses 13-18:

            Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding,

           for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. 

           She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

          Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.

          Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

         She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;

         those who hold her fast are called happy.


I had wrestled with myself about making the trip, gave myself those messages all of us give ourselves from time to time—“Too busy!  Too much to do!  Got to stay in the office and do agenda items!”  But sometimes wisdom teaches us to slow our paths, to feel the breeze, to hear the waterfall, to smell the flowers, to enjoy each other’s company, and at bedtime to pray for those with whom we’ve shared life during the day! 

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September 26, 2016 “Tiny House”


My husband and I are constantly amazed at the number of references we hear to
“tiny house” and “tiny house” movement.  We laugh and think back to our early life together—to our decision to be married while still attending a private liberal arts college and the financial picture that that decision painted for the two of us. 

            We were in love and happy, and our decision made perfect sense to us but not necessarily to our two sets of parents!  After all we were first-generation-to-go-to-college people, and our parents had great ambitions for us.  We were to graduate, get good jobs, make good salaries, buy nice houses, raise successful children and so on and so on.  They were dismayed that our decision to be married while still in college might sidetrack us, might take us off the path of education, good jobs, and all the rest.

            Despite our parents’ disapproval we found a way to make our situation work.  We found our own version of “tiny house.”  We called it a mobile home.  We took savings and bought the mobile home from a professor who was moving away.  Then our primary cost for housing was about $17 a month—the cost for water as well as for parking the mobile home.  Maybe in those early days we had something in common with “tiny house” kinds of people, although I’m sure there is a great deal of variety in motivations to what attracts people to “tiny houses.”

            Our modern culture has much of an accent placed upon “me” and “mine.”  “Tiny house” people may have some of that accent as well.  For instance, the motivation may be, “I want to avoid the stress and strain a huge mortgage places on me.”  “I want freedom to not be trapped in a job I hate simply because I have huge indebtedness.”  “I want to afford a certain lifestyle—travel, recreation, time with my friends—and having a “tiny house” helps me create that kind of lifestyle for myself.”

            Sometimes, however, the accent falls in other places.  Sometimes I hear someone comment, “Having a tiny house—having only what I need rather than what I might want—helps me to be free.   Without having a huge debt load, I can find ways of giving back to the world.  I can make a difference in the world around me.”

            True confession—we no longer live in the mobile home we bought in college.  True confession—we have a mortgage, and we are working hard to pay off indebtedness and prepare for retirement, but we understand that God calls us to place the emphasis in our lives not on money or acquiring things but on service to others.

 I will continue to marvel at the “tiny house” movement.  I will watch designers as they contemplate infinite use for allotted space.  I will applaud every effort at making “tiny house” aesthetically pleasing.  Most of all I will stand up and take notice as I hear testimony to the freedom “tiny houses” and debt-free living can provide for us to make a difference in our world! 



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September 19, 2016: “Blow, Breeze, Blow”

            I grew up in Western North Carolina before the days of global warming.  By this time in September there were signs of fall everywhere!  The leaves were changing colors. The cool breezes were beginning to blow.  Our fall clothes were out of storage and hanging in our closets.  We went to Friday night high school football games with hats and gloves and coats, and if you were lucky a mug of Russian tea in hand to sip on and help provide warmth!

            I loved every ounce of change that we experienced!  Although summer had been fun and carefree I looked forward to all that fall encompassed—most especially the cool breezes.  They felt invigorating.  They created in me an energy that I did not feel all summer long in the midst of muggy heat.

            The Christian faith has much to say about the Holy Spirit within our lives.  It often uses imagery of wind or of breezes blowing to convey that activity.

            I love the imagery, and I love it when the people of God do not shy away from but rather welcome the movement of the spirit in our lives.  The spirit leads and guides and directs.  It speaks to us the still small messages that God most wants to convey.  It takes us down paths of service we would never have designed or perhaps even imagined for ourselves; yet, those paths are the ones that are the most fulfilling, that help us to grow to greater depths of faith, and that help us to be blessings to others.

            As the gentle breezes of fall begin to blow, I hope you will welcome them, enjoy the refreshment from summer’s heat.  I also hope that you will think about the wind of the Holy Spirit and that you will welcome it into your life, that you will follow its leading, and celebrate the good things that it brings to your life and to your ministry with others.


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September 12, 2016: “The New and the Old”

            My mom made the best baked chicken and dressing and rice and gravy in the whole world!  Add a little cranberry sauce and what more could you ask!  She made chocolate pies that were to die for!  They started with a crispy, homemade crust.  She stirred and cooked the chocolate filling until it was perfect.  She whipped up an egg white topping, piled it high on top of the filling now in the pie shell.  Then she baked it on high heat for just a few minutes until golden brown—really to die for!

            When I went off to college mom mysteriously began experimenting with new recipes.  I came home for visits and still had the chance to eat chicken and dressing and rice and gravy—enough to keep me going in my days away at college—but strange, WONDERFUL things also began to appear.  She discovered the delectable treat called marshmallow cream fudge!  I was happy to indulge her desire for cooking experimentation!  Needless to say the marshmallow cream fudge helped me achieve my plus-fifteen pounds in the freshman year!

            It’s great to come home—come home to favorite sights and sounds and smells and tastes—and especially to come home to renew relationships!  It’s even great when you come home and realize that a few things have changed—like new foods suddenly appearing on the table or new colors on the walls or even new people sitting down around the table.  The old and the new are all a part of God’s blessing.

            And so it is with life in the church.  We love the familiar sights and sounds and smells and tastes.  We love the familiar faces sitting around the table.  But isn’t it wonderful to also have folks from our past come and sit with us for a time?  And isn’t it wonderful to have folks we’ve never met come and be in our midst?  We can never imagine all the good that God has in store for us in a day’s time!

            I look forward to this coming Sunday at Winterville United Methodist Church!  It’s Homecoming—a day for the usual folks to show up, a day for folks from the past to come and join in, a day when folks who’ve never worshipped may come in and join the fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, with the fellowship of folks who call this place home!


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September 5, 2016: 1 Timothy 1:12-17 “Making Up for Lost Time”

            Sometimes we get lost in life—sometimes literally as in a sense of direction--but lostness can also be about our sense of priority or about values for living.  All experiences of “lostness” seem to have attached to them a renewed fervor once the individual has found the way out of the maze of his/her lostness!

            I have an incredibly poor sense of direction.  I can find myself lost when traveling a route I’ve traveled many times before.  I can travel to the room of someone I’m trying to visit in the hospital only to find it hard to return to the parking deck when the visit is done.  I can turn right, then left, then right, but can experience tremendous difficulty remembering left, then right, then left to get home.

            I always have the sense of needing to make up for lost time.  I have to walk a bit faster to the parking deck once I’ve discovered my way. I have to drive a bit faster—although hopefully not over the speed limit—to catch up with the schedule I had previously set for myself.  I even resolve to study, to work harder, to do all the navigational exercises that apparently I SHOULD have done when I was a child riding in the back seat with a parent driving!

            But the experience of making up for lost time takes on even greater weight with regard to priority for living.  I have watched as patients who had lived much of their lives assuming they were invincible and who assumed that they would always have time with their families once the fortune-making was done suddenly make 180° turns when the cancer diagnosis came.  I have seen the radical change that can come in someone’s life when given the ultimatum, “You have to choose.  It’s either me or your job!”  I’ve seen students stand up and take notice when suddenly they hear, “Look, you either quit goofing around and start studying or you’re going to find yourself sitting in the same grade next year!”

         In the Christian faith, we also have the opportunity to see what happens as folks come face to face with the love of Jesus and as his love does the work in them that God intends.  Racists can be racists no longer.  Members of hate groups—whatever they may be—quickly wash their hands of the group and begin the process of trying to make amends.  People who have spent most of their time bringing hurt and pain to others suddenly make being instruments of love and peace their very life goal!

            So it is with the life of Paul!  We don’t often think about hate groups being at work in the first and second centuries.   The term is so prevalent in modern culture that we tend to think about it as a modern phenomenon, but hate, hate groups, and acting out in mean and despicable ways has always been a part of human existence.

            The New Testament tells the story of Paul who, in his hate for Christians and in his passionate desire to rid the world of all of them went on campaigns to hunt them down and to arrest them.  But Acts, chapter 9, tells how in route for Damascus for more of his hate-mongering activity, Paul hears the voice of Christ speak to him.

            To say it is life-altering is to hardly do justice to what happened within Paul.  Paul—the tent-maker—may have spent the balance of his life making tents for a living, but his passion became serving Christ, speaking the love of Christ to all whom he encountered.  He, with great resolve, washed his hands of the hate group and began to sink all his energies into being the instrument of peace and love that God intends.  I have the feeling that much of what was a driving force in Paul’s life was not only the gratitude he felt for the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ but also the sense of lost time—time spent going in the wrong direction, doing the wrong things—and a desire to make up for lost time by doing good—as much as he could with as many people as he could in the time allotted to him.

            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us could have that Damascus Road kind of experience—if every time hate wells up within us we could hear Jesus calling us to a radically different path?  What a different world we would have!

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