The Blessing Of Giving

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 20:32-38.

I spent a lot of time in reflection this week. Little did I know a year ago this week would be my last week before maternity leave.

I think God was merciful; my preaching in flats for one Sunday was enough!

We thought our due date was November 5 – actually it was November 12 for reasons that still do not make sense to Andrew and me – but Joshua had other plans entirely.

I think he wanted to redeem October for me. Now I would think of this month for him first…and for LOFs…do I have to assign them a number?

This time last year we had just moved all our furniture back into the parsonage following the new flooring installation. We were still unpackaging shower presents. I had no idea where the special hospital folder with all the paperwork in it was – you know the one you have when you go to the hospital!? (Turns out you do not have to have it…)

That week I worked patch shifts. We unloaded the second truck. I spent the day in a district meeting. And then I went to a doctors appointment – and they were astonished I was walking and talking. They were also slightly terrified when I said I drove myself to the appointment; according to the blood pressure machine I should have been in the midst of a seizure or a stroke.

Andrew picked me up and we went to the hospital – without the folder. We waited and waited and waited. I did not respond to any of their medication – to reduce my blood pressure or to start labor. We waited and waited and waited. We cried. We rolled our eyes. We hoped. I wanted Joshua to be safe. Andrew wanted both of us to be safe.

And then Sunday came. And with Sunday – peace. Great friends and leaders stepped into the pulpits, and Trunk or Treat leadership, and Charge Conference participation and we stepped into the operating room. Britney Spears’ Wrecking Ball played over the speakers. “Sometimes there are weird noises in here,” the anesthesiologist said. Moments later, soft cries. Joshua was here. And his presence erased all the fear and anger and worry and mess from the preceding days. That day I received the third greatest gift in my life. The first is my relationship with God, the second is my relationship with Andrew, and the third is the relationship with our son. We delight watching him grow in knowledge and love of God and the world God made each and every day.

Andrew and I joke from time to time, “We have kept Joshua alive [this length of time].” On Monday we can say, “We have kept Joshua alive for a whole year!” But the truth is that he has given us life – he has given us life for a whole year. Joshua has given us a life we never dreamed could be until October 22, 2018.

I tear up when I think about all we have received since receiving Joshua in our arms nearly a year ago – all the encouragement and gifts, all the hugs and crazy stories, all the honesty and care.

The generosity of others in our lives – especially in Joshua’s first year of life – teaches and encourages our generosity. This is a beautiful lesson learned as a result of living faithfully in a community of believers.

Thank you, dear friends, for welcoming and loving our son so well in his first year. Because of what we have received from you, we are inspired to give, and to give more.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

 

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Lessons In Leadership ~ Learn or Repeat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 51:1-12.

Joshua’s new favorite pastime? Doors. He loves doors.

Closet doors. Cabinet doors. Bedroom doors. If it is on a vertical hinge, Joshua loves it.

There is a “Lazy Susan” cabinet in our kitchen that is Joshua’s utmost favorite. He will sit in his chair that is in a shape of a Ferrari (I know, right!?) and spin the Lazy Susan around and around and around – squealing with delight all the while.

Until one time he was not squealing. He was screaming.

It happened. His fingers did not move fast enough and Joshua felt the first real sting of pinching fingers in a door.

(Do you feel that sensation as you read this? I am feeling it as I type this. Ouch!)

I gathered Joshua up in my arms. Andrew came in and kissed Joshua’s little hand. And then Andrew sat on the floor with Joshua to teach him about moving his hand away. Andrew placed his fingers where Joshua’s fingers were pinched and showed him that if the door continues to rotate, then he would be hurt. Joshua sat mesmerized. And I just fell in love with Andrew all over again. Because that is what love is – taking the time to sit with someone, to teach them, to help them gather skills and knowledge so that they can live happy and whole and (hopefully) hurt-free lives.

Andrew sat with Joshua because others sat with him – teaching him, caring for him, guiding him. Andrew’s parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and mentors learned that lesson from having folks sit with, teach, care for, and guide them.

And who taught that first lesson of care and relationship? Our God in heaven.

I am sure the “pinched fingers” lesson is one of many lessons we will have to revisit with Joshua as he grows. It is great when we learn a lesson the first time. And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we usually have to learn lessons – usually the same lesson – more than once. This is part of the human condition – that we revisit lessons. This is part of learning obedience – that we will choose a different path. This is part of gaining wisdom with the hope that we will learn and then apply what we have learned in all future circumstances.

If we fail to learn in the present, then we are destined to repeat the past.

I look forward to concluding our Lessons in Leadership Sermon Series this week as we study Psalm 51, which is attributed to David after he was held accountable for his actions with Bathsheba by the Prophet Nathan. Even after such a terrible event, there is grace and there is hope. Even after the terrible events in our lives – the ones we create and the ones that impact us – there is grace and there is hope for us to learn rather than continue to repeat.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: “He took my sins and my sorrows, he made them his very own; he bore the burden to Calvary, and suffered and died alone. How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me!”* Amen.

*”I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 371.

Memorial Day Sunday Hymn Sing

Scripture ~ Psalm 72.

When I was a girl, Memorial Day signaled the start of summer. School would be out soon if it was not already. We would eat more meals of hamburgers and hotdogs from the grill. Long days of sunshine and riding bikes into the evening hours until the mosquitoes literally chased us inside were in my grasp.

Memorial Day took on a new meaning my senior year of high school. My brother, Charlie, enlisted in the United States Army and deployed to Kuwait. There he served as a fueler and he patrolled the oil lines headed into the war zone. I thought of and prayed for him every day he was away. I wanted to eat burgers and hot dogs with him on Memorial Day, not wish he was there…

My appreciation for Memorial Day deepened a great deal when we learned of the death of Andrew’s beloved Josh. I will never forget driving into the National Cemetery in Bushnell and seeing each grave decorated with an American Flag. Josh loved this country. He gave his life for it. Duty. Honor. Brotherhood. Those values were the foundation of his life.

When Andrew and I found out we would be parents – like many – we began discussing names. It was not until the day we learned that we would have a son that I looked at Andrew and said we should name him Joshua. I will never forget the way that Andrew‘s face lit up. I asked him if it would be painful for him to call our son Joshua and Andrew said no because he wants our son to hold dear all of the things that his beloved Josh held dear. And so when we look at our Joshua we remember his namesake. We remember duty, honor, brotherhood and sisterhood. We remember and we give thanks.

As you celebrate Memorial Day this coming week, I invite you to reflect on how the celebration of this holiday has changed for you. How has the meaning of this day deepened? Is there someone that God is calling you to connect with on this day? What values ground your life and how do they give shape to the service that you offer to your neighbors?

Prayer: “Almighty God, before whom stand the living and the dead, we your children, whose mortal life is but a hand’s breadth, give thanks to you:

For all those through whom you have blessed our pilgrimage, whose lives that have empowered us, whose influence is a healing grace, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the dear friends and family members whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever, we lift up thankful hearts.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship you now in heaven, we lift up thankful hearts.

For those who sacrificed themselves, our brothers and sisters who have given their lives for the sake of others, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may hold them all in continual remembrance, and ever think of them as with you in that city whose gates are not shut by day and where there is no night, we lift up thankful hearts.

That we may now be dedicated to working for a world where labor is rewarded, fear dispelled, and the nations made one, O Lord, save your people and bless your heritage. Day by day we magnify you, and worship your name, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*”Memorial Day,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 440.

Join us in worship for one service at 11am this Sunday at Tuskawilla UMC. Our choir will lead us through a guided hymn sing celebrating American Hymn Writers.

 

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Butter Battle Book

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13.

Joshua is teething. Our wonderfully content little man…is now a wonderfully cranky little man. Poor guy. It is true what they say – it is good that babies are the ones that teeth and that they (we) forget the pain. Adults could not endure it.

Watching Joshua teethe, attempting to soothe him, or listening as he gives Andrew a piece of his mind about teething during the late night hours is hard. It is hard to watch and attempt to soothe and listen to someone you love experience pain.

We rock Joshua. We sing to him. We offer him a cold teething ring. We assure him that the pain will pass. We offer him something to eat and, when necessary, pain reliever. He is not left alone in his pain. Our nearness assures him that we see, we know, and we walk alongside. Our nearness communicates our commitment to him. Our nearness and our presence in his pain – not to increase it but to comfort him in hopes of alleviating the pain – is an expression of our love.

Our world is full of all sorts of pain. And sadly there are many in this world that sit alone in their pain – some through self-selection and others that have sought listening ears and warm hearts and found only cold shoulders. I am convinced that their pain – our pain – would be surely eased and well on its way to being healed by giving and receiving the gift of nearness, which entails both companionship and compassion.

Sometimes when we see a loved one in pain, we can fix the situation. Andrew or I can offer Joshua a teether and that does the trick! But other times we cannot fix the pain; it is either beyond our capacity to fix or it is not our role to fix. No matter the circumstance, what we can do – and it is hard! – is show our loved one empathy by sitting with them in their pain. The intent of sitting with them is not to further exacerbate their pain but to acknowledge that it is real, and, that if it is a concern for their heart, then it is a concern for ours, too.

Pain, and often the shame that accompanies it, intensifies when we feel we are all alone, which is why the Apostle Paul calls our attention to “a more excellent way” – which is the way of love expressed through companionship and compassion. This is the love that we receive from God because God first loved us. This is the love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. This is the love that never fails. This is the love that never ends.

When was a time someone showed you empathy? How did that nearness comfort you and heal your pain? Who is God placing on your heart to connect with this week? How might sharing God’s gift of nearness alter their circumstances for the better?

Prayer: “Your love, O God, has called us here, for all love finds its source in you, the perfect love that casts out fear, the love that Christ makes ever new.”* Amen.

*“Your Love, O God, Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal 647.

New Beginnings: Whenever You Are Ready

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Revelation 3:8.

Joshua is proving to be a wonderful teacher. Researchers say that infant brain development is astounding in the first several months as infants mature and grow in their new surroundings.

I think the same can be said for the parents of infants as we mature and grow in our care of this little one that has completely changed our surroundings.

Andrew and I would not change this for the world.

A couple weeks ago Joshua had his first ever diaper rash. And I felt terrible! His skin was so red and irritated. He did not seem to mind much…maybe because we caught it early? We cleaned the area and applied the recommended ointment. After a few diaper changes, we saw some improvement, but not as much as we would like. After a day or so Andrew wondered aloud if we should try out a diaper the next size up…that perhaps the rash was a way of letting us know that Joshua was ready for that change.

So we did.

New diaper size. Continued application of ointment. And in a two more days, the rash was gone.

I admit that it was a little hard for me to try out the next diaper size on Joshua. That means he is growing up. That means that one stage of his life is already complete and will not be repeated. I said early on that I did not want to think of Time as my enemy as Joshua grows. I want to give thanks for where has has been, be present where he is now, and look with hope to where he is going. Part of being present is being attentive to his signals – that he or his body makes – that he is ready to take the new step forward. That he is ready to start his next new beginning.

It is important for us to be attentive to signals as well – how our bodies, hearts and minds respond when we reflect on “How is it with my soul?” The answer to that question in conversation with God can and will make us aware to when it is time for us to make a new beginning. This new beginning could be a change in routine – like committing to eating better or exercising so you have more energy to pursue the passions in your life. This new beginning could be a call to make a change in your career, a shift in a major relationship, and/or a leading to assess and reorder your priorities.

New beginnings are hard work. I’ll say it again – new beginnings are hard work. Why? Because new beginnings signal that what was is coming to an end. What was may or may not be again. With new beginnings – at times – comes some grief and sorrow. The hope is that those feelings do not last forever because our new patterns, our new beginnings, will be truly life-giving.

Have you been feeling a nudge towards making a new beginning? What signals have you noticed in your life that this may be the season for a change? What preparations do you need to make in order to make the change when you are ready? What support do you have or will you need for your change to be successful?

Prayer: “Let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees), let us praise God together on our knees (on our knees). When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me (on me).”* Amen.

“Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees,” The United Methodist Hymnal 618.

 

The Choice Is Yours

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 1:4-11.

I am thrilled to return to my regular posting on The Sunday Stiletto! My eleven week hiatus was due in part to this sweet face.

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Meet Joshua everyone! Andrew and I are completely in love and grateful each day to be this little guy’s parents.

Last Sunday Pastor Kate shared a challenging sermon based on one of her favorite Scripture texts – Micah 6:1-8. This is a text that Pastor Kate returns to again and again. The thought of her returning to this text stirred my heart to consider a Scripture text I return to again and again. Immediately I thought of The Greatest Commandment:

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answered, The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The secondhand is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mk 12:38-31).

In the words of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “let me sum up – Love God; Love Others.

In my words and in my actions, in my work and in my play, in public and private spheres, today and always I want to love God and love others. That is my choice and my prayer as I begin each day, especially since Joshua arrived. I want him to see in me what it looks like and what it means to embody Jesus’ Greatest Commandment.

I need God’s help to accomplish this embodiment. I need God to lead me. I confess that I do not always get it right. I roll my eyes, I think hurtful thoughts, I put myself ahead of others. I am grateful that God’s grace is abundant in those moments and is faithfully shaping me so that I am able to love more completely the next time.

What Scripture text do you return to again and again? How does that Scripture text inspire or guide the choices you make? Share your thoughts with someone and take care to embody that Scripture text this week.

Prayer: “Wash, O God, our sons and daughters, where your cleansing waters flow. Number them among your people; bless as Christ blessed long ago. Weave them garments bright and sparkling; compass them with love and light. Fill, anoint them; send your Spirit, holy dove and heart’s delight.”* Amen.

*“Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters,” The United Methodist Hymnal 605.

Vital Elements of Worship: Breathing in Grace, Breathing Out Praise

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 150.
Questions.
I am answering a lot of questions these days.
How are you feeling? Have you been sick? What has your experience been like? Do you need anything? How can I help?
Questions…that are hard to answer because I do not like (prefer) talking about myself.
Answering these questions draws me out of my comfort zone. It is important for me to share. And I feel and experience great care when I hear these (your) questions. Thank you, friends, for your care of me.
My biggest adjustment in starting my gestational journey is rest. I need to rest much more frequently than I have in recent memory…and I am finding that some attempts to rest are completely futile. I lie awake – uncomfortable, curious, nervous, and sore. In the quiet and in the stillness I ebb and flow between feelings of chaos and order. With God and Andrew, we are experiencing a huge time of creation! This is a (our!) Genesis Moment.
In Creation, there was order and chaos. In Creation, God spoke and it was so. In Creation, God spoke and said it was – we are – all is good. In Creation God breathed God’s life-giving Spirit into us, eternally solidifying our connection. In Creation, God worked and rested.
Rest is not a sign of weakness. Rest is not a sign of inadequacy. Rest is a way – God’s way – our way of recharging, recentering, and reinvigorating our work in and for the Kingdom. If we work without ceasing, our work becomes our idol. If we work without ceasing, we do not offer our best selves or services to God and neighbor. If we work without ceasing, we cut ourselves off from what God seeks to offer us in the midst of rest.
I do not like (prefer) to rest, but I am learning the value of rest. I do not like that my production levels are not equivalent to the past, but on those days I just remind myself that I fortified a central nervous system in the last 12 hours!
I do like that in my rest I am reminded of God’s life-giving breath falling afresh upon me as my breath nourishes the life of my and Andrew’s son. In those moments of rest I ask God to relieve feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. I ask God to help me be and to breathe deeply.
Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”* Amen.
*”Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.