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.

 

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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.

Parable of the Dragnet

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:47-51.

The summer of 2004 Andrew served as a lake interpreter at a Boy Scout camp in the Boundary Waters area of Northern Minnesota. He spent the summer taking different scout troops on 10 to 14 day paddle trips…and loved every minute of it.

I also think he wanted to have a summer where he did not have shower the.entire.summer.

And he did not…for 81 days…

He knew to shower before he boarded the flight home to see me.

Smart guy.

In regaling me with stories about his summer on the water, he would laugh the heartiest about the groups that showed up to the base with food to take with them on the water – canned food, snacks, MREs and more! And Andrew…being the stingy interpreter he was…would not let them take any food! None of it!

Why? Because if the boys were not paddling canoes, they were carrying canoes along with everything else they needed for their daily use and campsites. Andrew learned after his first trip that summer that if the scouts could not (literally) carry the weight brought with them, then he would have to carry it…and he did not sign up for that. So while inspecting the scout packs before departure, Andrew would make them pile up all their food to be left behind. They would spend the next 10 to 14 days on the water…and they would fish!

Some boys were fishing experts while others had a steep learning curve. They fished with rods and cast nets. Sometimes they caught fish…other times they caught whatever was in the lake that day…a coffee carafe was the most interesting item!

What I found most encouraging – after I recovered from the thought of Andrew denying the boys access to all the food they brought with them! – was how the boys applied themselves to the work and task of fishing. Fishing was essential for survival on their trip. If one scout had a hot line in the water and another scout was struggling, they took care of one another. Everyone ate. Everyone enjoyed his experience. They learned the value of teamwork, hard work, and being their brothers’ keeper.

The Kingdom of God is like…

This week we celebrate Pentecost – the birth of the Church – in the Christian year. On the day of Pentecost a great gathering of God’s people were gathered together in one place. The Holy Spirit descended and together God’s people worshipped. And from their worship many were convicted to repent and be baptized. And in response – in ownership – of their baptism they served together, ate together, affirmed their commitment to God by caring for and keeping their sisters and brothers together.

Together.

I truly believe that God intends us all to be together. And that when we are all together as the Church – worshipping, serving, sharing, affirming – we not only have enough; we have and are more than enough. To be the Church is hard work. From time to time we may have to leave things behind that we desperately want to bring forward with us so that we can make room to learn new skills, be adventurous in new areas, and blossom further into the people that God desires us to be.

I hope such great hope for the Church, for The United Methodist Church, and for Tuskawilla. God is bigger than all our challenges and God is so so faithful. God asks for our faithfulness. God asks for us to fish even when we are scared…even when we do not know how…even when we think we know a better way. God will and is taking care of us. We are the Church. We are God’s Church. And God is leading us into God’s preferred future.

Please plan to join us for a Congregational Meeting following our 11am Worship Service this Sunday, June 4 to receive an update about the work and continued work of your Tuskawilla UMC Leadership Team. We will meet in the Sanctuary immediately following the Benediction.

Prayer: “Wind who makes all winds that blow, gusts that bend the sapling low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves: Aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour. Raise, renew the life we’ve lost, Spirit God of Pentecost.” Amen.*

*“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal 538.

Parable of the Treasure

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:44.

One day while in Nepal (it still stuns me that I am able to say that phrase!) Andrew and I decided to visit Nagarcot, which is in the western-most end of the Everest region. We called our faithful driver, Ramesh, and set out early for the 40 kilometer journey from Kathmandu.

It was truly incredible to watch the landscape change as we ascended out of the bowl of the Kathmandu valley. Geographically, Kathmandu is in a valley; it is in a physical dip in the landscape between the mountains that sits gingerly atop an active fault line. But the lusciousness that the word “valley” evokes is hard to find amongst all the construction and industry. In a very real way, one must leave the valley to find the valley.

The farther we drove, the more the air quality improved. Trash disappeared, or was much less visible. Brown and gray turned to green and I was so excited to see green! “Wait,” Ramesh said, “Just wait.”

Out of the valley we turned off the paved road for a rocky one to led us up to Nagarcot. After driving upward for a couple kilometers Ramesh pulled the car over, which was a feat in itself because there was nowhere to pull the car to – the choices were towards the rock face or the cliff.

He chose the rock face.

“Now look.”

And we followed Ramesh’s gesture to look at that same field we passed earlier but this time we saw it from above. What I thought was green was actually a field of gold. Little golden flowers sitting atop green stems that bloom in direct daylight and close up again at dusk.

It was truly hidden treasure in a field.

I was amazed that field had been left untouched so the flowers could grow. Land is at such a premium in Nepal, though not many people own; they squat. Ramesh said this field on the rock face had been in the same family for many generations – meaning the same family had lived on that rock face for many generations – and though development was important, it was not vital. What was vital was leaving the land as untouched by human hands as possible so the livestock could graze, and the water could seep into the earth, and the flowers could greet them as if to say “good morning” on their way to work and “good night” on their way home.

Our parable for this week says the finder bought the field, not what the finder did with the field once purchased. Yes, I believe that we are invited to have a hand in bringing about the Kingdom of God, but we do not have to develop it from the ground up. The Kingdom of God is – just like the field is – full of beauty and wonder. It is something to behold and respect. It is something to care for and nurture. And it is a place to be surprised by what we might discover there – and because we are there – what we might discover in ourselves.

Join Samantha Aupperlee and Alex Lilly this Sunday as they offer their leadership in word and song on this parable in both our Morningsong and 11am worship services. Thank you, dear friends, for sharing your gifts with our church family.

Prayer: “In all the world around me I see his loving care, and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair. I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast; the day of his appearing will come at last. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, he lives, salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”* Amen. 

*”He Lives,” The United Methodist Hymnal 310.

Messiah: For Unto Us A Child Is Born

This Weekend’s Scripture ~ Luke 2:1-20.

Today – December 23 – Andrew and I celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, the 12 year celebration of our engagement, and 15 1/2 years of togetherness.

My heart is so warm.

People often ask why our anniversary is so close to Christmas. Andrew proposed under the Japanese archway in Epcot on December 23, 2004 and said he wanted that day to be our anniversary – and so it is!

It is a bit overwhelming at times for a clergy couple to celebrate our anniversary so close to our leading celebrations of Christ’s Incarnation, but we would not trade it. In celebrating our anniversary we remember that the church brought us together – our first kiss as a couple and as spouses was at an altar!…a story for another time – and the church was brought together by and because of Christ.

I give thanks for the Child that is born unto us. I give thanks for my husband and for the opportunity to share the life we have together in service of this Child. I give thanks for the Merry Christmas and Happy New Year that awaits us all.

Join us for Christmas Eve Worship at 6pm on Saturday featuring Carols, Communion and Candlelight.

Join us Christmas Day for Morningsong at 8:30 featuring Prayers and Communion and at 10am for Carols and Blessing of the Toys.

Prayer: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing!”*

*”Joy to the World,” The United Methodist Hymnal 246.

Christmas Cantata: Once Upon A Night

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:76-79. 

This Sunday Tuskawilla UMC’s Sanctuary Choir will share their Christmas Cantata Once Upon A Night. Thank you, Tim, Linda, and choir members for your hours of preparation and spirits of dedication to share this offering of song with us. 

(Thanks for inviting me to sing with you, too!)

My “once upon a night” Christmas Eve story is not nearly as picturesque as that first Christmas night. It was December 24, 2006. Andrew and I arrived to the cabin in the North Georgia Mountains where we would spend our honeymoon just as the sun was setting. We checked in at the lodge to receive our key and to eat dinner…only to get the key and be told that the lodge was closed for the next three days even though we called multiple times to ensure we would be able to eat there over Christmas. 

We had no food with us…save the few remaining cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster in the back seat of the car. And so began our pursuit – on Christmas Eve at 5pm – for a grocery store still open in rural North Georgia. 

Lord have mercy. 

We eventually navigated our way to a Walmart 45 minutes away. Andrew pleaded with the security guard at the front door behind the already closed security gate to let us in to buy some food for the next few days. 

Our Christmas wish was answered; “You have 10 minutes” was all he said. 

Andrew and I split up – I got in line at a register and he took off for frozen foods. When I saw him next he had waffles, frozen pizza, frozen chicken wings, and orange juice. 

Can you guess what we eat every Christmas Eve once we get home from worship!?

It was not glamorous, but it was our first Christmas Eve together. We laugh about it now, but I was so troubled in the moment. I start thinking about what I will eat next while I am currently eating; so, the thought of no access to food for a day or two caused me a great deal of distress. 

I am sure the Holy Family experienced a great deal of distress as they travelled to Bethlehem – Mary, great with child and Joseph, great with lingering concern about his betrothed and her child. And in the dark of night they found sanctuary in a stable-cave. In the dark of night they watched the Light of the world enter this world – our world – and through his life Jesus ushered them – ushers us – out of darkness into marvelous light. 

All once upon a night. 

I hope you will join us as the choir sings the nativity story in a fresh and wonderful light on Sunday morning at our 11am service. Morningsong will gather at 8:30am for prayer, Scripture reading, a meditation, and Holy Communion. Looking forward to worshipping with you on the Third Sunday of Advent. 

Prayer: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”* Amen. 

*”O Little Town of Bethlehem,” The United Methodist Hymnal 230.