Saturday, February 25, 2017

District Day of Service


Today is our District Day of Service.  Folks around the Chattanooga area will be going to Camp Lookout, the Bethlehem Center, the Tri-State Food Pantry at Sand Mountain, the Free Store, Hosanna House, Cloudland Canyon State Park and campgrounds, among many others to make blankets, clean, play bingo with residents, make cleaning kits, etc.  It is also the UMW (United Methodist Women) retreat day.  They will meet in the morning and do service projects in the afternoon.

It is a beautiful day to get out and work together in community for the good of others.

It is always a blessing to serve with others.  Working with community in community allows us to get to know one another, to work together, to build fellowship.

In these days we need to seek out opportunities to work with others, to get to know them, to fellowship, to serve together.  In doing these things, we will find that we have much more in common than we may have thought and by working side by side we can bring wholeness and healing into the brokenness.

It is a step by step movement.  Day by day.

What can we do for those in our midst?

Today, I am going to the Bethlehem Center.

I'm looking forward to it.

Peace and blessings,

Debra


Monday, February 20, 2017

A foggy morning


Yesterday morning I took my coffee outside on the deck for some quiet time.  Quiet time for reflection is important for me everyday, but even more so on Sunday mornings.  I need the time and space to empty out any and all things that would get in the way of me being a vessel to share God's message during the service.  I try to let go of things that can be put on the "back burner" and make space to be filled so that I can be used for the good of others and the glory of God.

As I stood out on the deck, the fog was thick in the yard and even thicker in the distance.

I felt enveloped by the fog, held close.

Even though fog keeps us from seeing far in front of us, there is that protective sense as it surrounds us.  That's not such a bad thing.  Seeing too far down the road (metaphorically speaking) could scare the wits out of me.  By only being able to see what is right in front of me, I am forced to remain present with what is right here with me.  That is a good thing.  Learning to be more present with people and in situations is a great lesson.  Learning to live into the here and now is another great lesson.  Learning to trust that the fog will break open when needed is another.  Trust.  Faith.

Earlier in the week, I had read and studied for yesterday's sermon and felt it was going in one direction.  When I started writing, it went in another direction.  Really?!?! I shouldn't have been surprised.  It has happened more than once.  There are times when a message just bubbles inside and doesn't come out until later.  There have been weeks when the message hasn't come out fully and I've preached from sticky notes.  Personally, I don't like those.  I prefer for things to be more clear.  But, I have walked in faith and trust and allowed myself to go out of my comfort zone.  I have survived.  The messages have turned out pretty decent too, or so others have said.  I keep reminding myself that it isn't about me.  It's all about God.  It's God's message.

The fog lifted yesterday and it turned out to be a gorgeous day.

I was blessed to speak Spanish and French with someone I met for the first time at one of the churches, hear my co-pastor preach part of his message, see him bring in new members, and share with all three churches at a chili lunch sponsored by our youth.

When the fog seems to be all around, remember the good things about it-- the protection, the enveloping, the opportunity to be still and present in the moment.  With the fog all around, I could focus on the sounds that seemed more pronounced.  I wrote this on my Facebook feed: "The morning view from the deck is fogged in. I hear geese in the distance, making their way somewhere. Droplets of water fall from the branches onto the leaves on the ground. A train blows its horn. Birds chirp and sing in different languages. I am attempting to become present in this day, to what it has to offer, to whatever I am I called to give. "This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it." Thinking of friends today who will celebrate life for loved ones and many others with other situations. May the God who comforts be present with all who need comfort!"

I'm speaking to myself here.

But if you find yourself fogged in at some point, maybe these words will help.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra


Monday, February 13, 2017

Pilgrimage


Pilgrimage.

Though not a physical journey, I am taking a journey.

I am working my way through Christine Valters Painter's The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within.

I started this book over a month ago. Today I started chapter 2 and then reread my notes from chapter 1.

There is so much meat here that I need to chew slowly.

As I prepare to enter Lent, I recognize that this is the book for me for the Lenten season. Lent is a pilgrimage.

"Practices are an essential part of the pilgrim's journey. What practices would support you most in the season ahead?" (17)

As I read and reflect today, I think there are three practices I will take with me through the Lenten season this year: contemplative photography, writing, and letting go.

Letting go is a theme in chapter 2.

By learning to let go, we learn what is essential, we clear away those things or beliefs that hold us back.

One goal of growth in the Christian journey is "letting go of everything that keeps us l from God and moving us along a journey toward authentic freedom." (35)

There are items in my home that I need to let go. For example, I know there are books (gasp!) and clothes that have outlived their time.

There are thoughts and beliefs for me to let go and put aside.

My goal is to move towards wholeness, oneness.

I learned that the scallop shell is a symbol for the pilgrim's journey (38). Shells, not necessarily the scallop, are also symbolic of baptism and remembering one's baptism.

As I read and reflected today, I opened myself up to wonder, to packing lightly on this pilgrimage, and to surrendering.

I don't fully know where this pilgrimage will take me or how I will be at the end, but I look forward to the journey.

The picture above is what "shimmered " tome as I looked around the room I am in. I enjoy stain glass windows. From my vantage point, I can see the overcast sky. It is not dreary to me, but rather open and spacious, beckoning.

Whatever Lenten practice(s) you take on this season or whatever pilgrimage you may be on, may you experience a fresh renewing and awakening in your relationship with the Creator.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Strength from songs

On February 3rd I was listening to the radio (Family Radio, 91.3) when several songs came on that struck me with their lyrics.

In order for me to minister to others, I need to keep growing in my relationship with God and in my faith. I know that I need to take time apart, have times of silence and solitude, study, pray, meet with others, etc.  I cannot offer to others from a dry well; I must refill at the fountain.

When there are days that I'm poured out to the point that I'm not sure what I have to offer, it is good to be reminded that I can offer the love of Christ.  I can share what I learn as I learn it.  I can offer ministry of presence and a listening ear.

As I was preparing that Friday morning to be with a family, the songs on the radio spoke to me and filled me with renewed strength.  Not solely for ministry with the family, but for quite a few other things going on in life.

One of the songs was new to me, "Lean On" by 7eventh Time Down.



Lyrics:

I know just how you feel
When you're too tired to stand up
I know just how you feel
I know it's hard to believe
When you wanna give up
I know just how you feel

You can lean on everlasting arms
When your strength fails and your faith is worn
You'll be safe here from all alarms
You can lean on everlasting arms

I know just how you feel
When you've done all that you can
And it's still not enough


There is a peace more real
There is a place you can rest
There's Someone you can trust

You can lean on everlasting arms
When your strength fails and your faith is worn
You'll be safe here from all alarms
You can lean on everlasting arms

He will hold you up and never let go
My God will hold you up,
He'll never let go 



Jordan Feliz sings "Down to the River".   It's a peppy song that I enjoy.  "Beloved" isn't as peppy, but the message is an important reminder for whose we are.


Lyrics:

Head full of questions, how can you measure up?
To deserve afftection to ever be enough
For this existance
When did it get so hard?
Your heart is beating, alive and breathing
And there´s a reason why
You are essential, not accidental
And you should realize
You are beloved
I wanted you to know
You are beloved
Let it soak into your soul
Oh, forget the lies you heard
Rise above the hurt
And listen to these words
You are beloved
I wanted you to know
You are beloved
You are beloved
Sometimes a heart can feel like a heavy weight
It pulls you under and you just fall away
Is anybody gonna hear you call?
Oh, oh
But there´s a purpose
Under the surface
And you don´t have to drown
Let me remind you
That love will find you
Let it lift you out
You are beloved
I wanted you to know
You 
are beloved
I wanted you to know
You are beloved
Don´t be afraid
Don´t let hope, faith keep your eyes fixed on the line above
In the heartbreak, in your mistakes, nothing can separate you from love
Don´t be afraid
Don´t let hope, fait keep you eyes fixed on the line above
In the heartbreak, in your mistakes, nothing can separate you from love
You are beloved
I wanted you to know
You are beloved
Let it soak into your soul
Forget the lies you heard
Rise above the hurt
And listen to these words
You are beloved
I wanted you to know
You are beloved
You are beloved
You are beloved
Don´t be afraid
Don´t let hope, faith keep your eyes fixed on the line above
In the heartbreak, in your mistakes, nothing can separate you from love
You are beloved

Remembering that there is an Audience of One for whom I am to live, love, and lead is at times difficult.  We all need reminding that we are beloved of God, that we are created uniquely with a purpose.  There are some days and times that we need that message more than others.  We can get caught up in the many voices daily, but need to attempt to listen to the One Voice, that of our Creator who knows us more intimately than anyone.

The other song that ministered to me that morning was "My All in All" by Phil Wickham, another new song for me that day.



Lyrics:
You are my life you are my love
You are my reason
You are my hope you are my joy
You are my passion
My all in all Jesus my all in all
In the desert You're the river
An ever flowing stream of life
In the battle You're the victor
We raise Your banner high
In the darkness You're the fire
A holy flame for all to see
In my heart You reign forever
My all, my everything
You are my life you are my love
You are my reason
You are my hope you are my joy
You are my passion
My all in all Jesus my all in all
My all in all Jesus my all in all
In the tempest You're the shelter
And I will hide beneath Your wings
Hallelujah what a Savior!
My all, my everything
You are my life you are my love
You are my reason
You are my hope you are my joy
You are my passion
My all in all Jesus my all in all
My all in all Jesus my all in all
Your name be high and lifted up
Jesus Your name be high and lifted up
Jesus Your name be high and lifted up
In all the earth, in all the earth
You are my life you are my love
You are my reason
You are my hope you are my joy
You are my passion
My all in all Jesus my all in all
My all in all Jesus You are my all in all
------------

Music ministers to my soul.  It can give me strength for the journey, help me praise and worship, and remind me of who and whose I am.

When the days are difficult or you are hearing from too many voices other than the One who knit you together in your mother's womb (Psalm 139), may you be encouraged by these or other songs.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra



Friday, February 10, 2017

Last week's lectionary lesson-- Salt and Light

I preach the lectionary.  Or, more often, the lectionary preaches to me.  Each week I dive into the Scripture passage hoping to come out with a message to share with the congregation(s) I will be with on that particular Sunday.  Some weeks are more difficult than others for that message to be birthed.  For those who are living into this calling, I imagine you know what I mean.

There are so many times that I find that the Scripture passages are reading me and the message too.

This past week was no different.

There have been several things that have happened, allowing me to reflect further on the themes of salt and light.

First, on Saturday, we had a planning and visioning meeting at one of our churches in the parish and had a guest speaker.  During his time of sharing with us he spoke about the church being a lighthouse in the community.  The picture on the front of the bulletin for Sunday included a lighthouse. I like it when things weave together.


Our speaker also spoke about people in the community being thirsty.  They may not know what they are thirsty for, but we, as the church (people, not building) can provide the answers they seek.  In the message for Sunday, I spoke about salt having three properties: it flavors, it keeps things fresh (preserves), and it creates a thirst.  There were two connections on that Saturday morning.

As I preached the sermon twice on Sunday morning, it preached to me.  I encouraged us to "Be Salt and Light" to those around us.  I mentioned that in being the light, we are bringing light into a broken and wounded world that needs healing.  Often, that broken and wounded world starts with us.  Just like a stained glass window, the light can shine brightly through broken things.  Or, just like a glow stick, we can shine brightly through brokenness.

The passage in Matthew 5:13-20 tells us that we are worth nothing if we lose our saltiness.  I addressed how we can sustain our saltiness and brightness through the means of grace taught by John Wesley.  We recently had a study on the Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition and the means of grace were most recently shared then.  But they got shared again on Sunday, as a way for us to remain salty and bright.

Means of Grace:


Instituted means of grace

[evident in the life and teaching of Jesus]

[inward holiness, works of piety]

·        prayer (private and corporate)

·        searching the Scriptures (reading, hearing, meditating)

·        Lord's Supper

·        Fasting

·        Community

Prudential means of grace
[developed by the church]

[outward holiness, works of mercy]

Service focused toward individual needs--

·        Doing Good (do no harm, do good, stay in love with God)

·        Visiting the Sick

·        Visiting the Imprisoned

·        Feeding & Clothing those in need

·        Earning, Saving, & Giving all one can


As it was the first Sunday of the month (meaning we would share in Holy Communion), we were participating in every means of grace in the first section, except fasting (to my knowledge).

It isn't easy to remain salty and bright.  It takes work.  I am reminded that our saltiness and brightness is for the sake of others.  We are to share with those around us, so that they will see the love of God and be drawn into relationship.

Sunday afternoon I was in the grocery store gathering a few groceries and I noticed someone down the aisle that I recognized, but couldn't place in the moment.  He seemed to recognize me too.  I didn't want to seem rude, so I kept moving, but acknowledged him with a hello or smile.  I don't remember.  As we passed one another, he turned around and asked me, "Do you know me?"  I turned back and responded that I did and suddenly his name came to me, so I gave it.  Then we started talking.  I reminded him how I knew him (horses and horse birthday parties) and we talked for a little while.  Our conversation went into church (his lead) and God.  It was definitely one of those opportunities to be salt and light and to share the good news of God's love.

Preaching isn't just something I do.  It's who I am.  It's a part of my life, lived out for the good of the kingdom and the glory of God.  I am changed constantly by the good news as I seek to live, love, and lead in the way of Jesus.

Another thing this week was that I was asked to do a funeral for a family I don't know.  This was the first time for me to do this.  I have done one funeral for a church member's family member that I didn't know, but not a funeral for folks I didn't know.

It had already been a busy two weeks with church families of dying, grief, death, and funerals, but I felt led to say yes to this family.

I was blessed tremendously to be able to walk alongside this family, to get to know their loved one who shone brightly throughout life despite hardships.

Walking with others through life in community is a means of grace.  It helps us keep our saltiness and brightness.

There were songs on the radio that brought me encouragement during the week, comments from friends and colleagues, prayers, etc.

I don't know what you are going through on your journey, whether you are on the top of the mountain or in the valley. What I do know is that the means of grace will strengthen and carry you as you live, love, and lead (we all lead in one way or another).

Be salt.  Be light.  Shine in the darkness for those who need to find their way to safety.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra




Sunday, January 29, 2017

St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, Stoneville, NC

Two weeks ago Sunday, I drove up to Stoneville, NC to the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center for my first extended silent retreat.  Prior to this retreat, The Big Silence, I hadn't done more than an overnight retreat in silence.  More on the silence part at another time.  For this post, I want to focus on the retreat center.

This was a new retreat center for me.  I have been blessed over the past couple of years through being on the board of the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL) to go to retreat centers each summer for board meetings and/or conferences (depending on the year).  I like to share my experiences in case others are looking for spaces for time apart and/or retreats.

St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC was a new place for me.  It was in a rural location, which made it perfect for a silent retreat in that the only external noises heard were those of owls, woodpeckers, and an occasional plane flying overhead at a very high elevation.  There was also some construction being done on site while we were there, but that wasn't disturbing to me.  I enjoyed hearing the sound of progress as stones were added to pillars and I enjoyed hearing the occasional Spanish spoken as I walked by.

When we arrived at the center, they were still decorated for the Christmas season, which was delightful. There were several Christmas trees around the main building, a huge nativity scene, and a smaller one. The decorations began to disappear on Monday.

Because the center is named for St. Francis, there are multiple St. Francis statues on the property.  I don't know how many total, but I found several. One of them I didn't find until the last day.

There are many spaces on the property for reflection, for quiet, for walking, for rest.  There are trails on the property, a labyrinth, a chapel in the woods, a chapel in the main building, an outdoor patio at the main building, a gazebo as you begin the trail, a peace garden, stations of the cross, a creek along portions of the walking trail, a waterfall constructed out of big rocks.

There is a meditation room in the main building as well as the chapel, along with a well-stocked library and other rooms for gathering.

The retreat center is beautiful, from the architecture to the layout to the outdoors.  They have done a wonderful job in creating a space for folks to take time apart.

If you've not heard of St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, I encourage you to check it out.  It was about a 7 hour drive for me from Chattanooga and worth it.

Here are some of the pictures I took of the buildings and the grounds.  There are rooms in the main building as well as hermitages and cottages for lodging.

entry way from main road

main building

entrance to main building

Christmas decorations in large room

chapel in the woods

St. Francis

Chapel in main building

Christmas decorations in hallway

St. Francis

waterfall

labyrinth

reflection space on upper trail

library

St. Francis

Tau symbol (view from main building)

Check out their website by clicking here for more information and pictures.


Blessings on your journey,

Debra




Blessed are...

bulletin cover

Today I used the Matthew 5:1-12 passage from the lectionary, the beatitudes.  One of the songs that was used in the service was a new one for me.  It reminded us to be salt (shake, shake, shake) and light (shine, shine, shine) and used terminology such as "bullied" rather than "persecuted".  It was a fun song, with a catchy tune and an important message.  Check it out below:



The lyrics:

Verse 1 Blessed are the poor in spirit Those who see the sin in their hearts Blessed are the ones who are weeping Cause sin has torn the whole world apart

Verse 2 Blessed are the meek and humble God will freely give them all things Blessed are the ones who are hungry And thirst for justice and wait on their King

Chorus We are the salt of the earth We’re going to shake, shake, shake like a salt-shaker We are the light of the world We’re going to shine, shine, shine ‘til the night’s no more We’re going to shine, shine, shine ‘til the night’s no more

Verse 3 Blessed are the merciful Whose sins are forgiven and so they can forgive Blessed are the pure in heart God will show His face to them

Verse 4 Blessed are the ones who make peace Loving others with the Savior’s love Blessed are those bullied for their faith Great in God’s kingdom will be their reward

Copyright © 2013 Matt Mason/Mandi Mapes/Brook Hills Music, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

In preparing for today, I couldn't get a song out of my head.  The lyrics that were going through my mind were: "everybody needs compassion".

As I had read the Scripture in preparation to preach and had studied, I kept coming back to living into this different way of living that Christ modeled and taught and how compassion plays a key role in it.  I looked up the song that was swimming around in my head.

It was a Hillsong United song, "Mighty to Save".  I found the lyrics and shared them in today's message.  They seemed to fit.


Lyrics:

Everyone needs compassion
A love that's never failing
Let mercy fall on me
Everyone needs forgiveness
A kindness of a Savior
The hope of nations
My Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
Forever
Author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave
So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender
Shine your light and let the whole world see
We're singing for the glory of the risen King...Jesus
--------------------------------------------



Compassion.  Hopefulness. Simplicity.  There were the thoughts that came from today's Scripture and readings, sharing that Jesus calls us to follow as disciples on this discipleship journey.

I am reminded that because God is love, there is a foundation for both compassion and hope.

May the love, light, compassion, and hope of Creator God continue to shine brightly in the dark places so that all people recognize that they are loved.

Blessed are they.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra