Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Who Is My Neighbor?


With last Sunday's sermon and Scripture still in my mind, I drove around Rossville, GA today looking for folks who might be out in the parks and need some cold water on this hot day.  Even though I have been in this appointment one year now, I still have lots of places to get to know in the three towns.

That became very obvious just now.

But, before I share that story, I will share that I was able to hand out one bottle of water to a woman at the park who was waiting to go to go her cleaning job. We spoke only briefly.

As I headed back to the office for a meeting, I noticed an "open" neon sign in English on the window in a building next to the church.  In Spanish were the letters "Salon de belleza". I had never noticed that before.
I parked the car and walked over. The front door was locked, but they motioned me around back.

When I went in, there was a guy signing in and another in one of the chairs. I started speaking Spanish with them immediately and explained I had just noticed the sign. I told the I was still getting to know the area after being here a year. I asked how long they had been in business here, right next to the church.  12 years was her reply. 12 years?!? Wow. I guess others in the community who learned I spoke Spanish hadn't noticed it either because nobody has told me about the Spanish shop next door. Now I know.  We spoke briefly.  I left a card and told her I would be back to talk more later.

What a pleasant surprise for me to find out today that a literal neighbor to Simpson UMC is a Spanish beauty shop.


I look forward to getting to know these neighbors.

Have you been surprised by anything in your journey recently?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S. Here is an article I read about 25 Ways to be missional in your neighborhood. It can be applied to churches too, many of the ideas can be. Get creative and see what you can do in your unique situation.

Fill the space with love


The hole in the sky caught my eye the other day.

This morning as I was reading Macrina Wiederkehr,  this quote caught my attention in light of everything going on in the world: "A lot of space in the world is still filled with hate. As followers of Jesus we have no option except to try to fill up these spaces with love." Macrina Wiederkehr, Abide, p. 148

I put the two together this morning:


As I have been reflecting on this, I am grateful for several examples of love this past Sunday. 

Pastor Robin Hager responded in love in her community in Venice, FL in a situation that had potential to be negative as a group came to protest her church. She took her leadership role boldly from the start and set the tone for love. It was beautiful. 

Pastor Ginger Isom shared that a gentleman came to her church on Sunday right as church was starting. He wanted to talk. He stayed for the service, in spite of being a minority.  He was welcomed. They spoke afterwards and the men of the church are reaching out in love. 

These leaders encourage me. They are following the example of another leader, Christ, who continued to lead out of love.

There may be hate toward others, there may be apathy. There may only be a tiny hole open to fill with love in the moment.

Yet, if we are faithful to fill the hole, the spaces with love, then that is enough. That is what I am to do in the moment.

Will God use that love to break open the space wider and wider to dispel the hate, fear, ignorance, and apathy? I hope so. I pray so.

I also pray for boldness and courage to speak the truth in love in all situations, as directed by the One True Shepherd so that I might bring and share love openly and not give up hope.

May it be so.

Peace and blessings on your journey, 

Debra






Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blessings of this day.... seeing someone unexpectedly and enjoying music

Today I went to NHC Healthcare in Rossville, GA to join with Gail, Doris, and Bobby as they shared their gift of music with the residents there.  

I recently learned that they go every 2nd Tuesday at 11am to share their gift of music.  They play their guitars and sing gospel and country songs.  When I learned that they go regularly, I told Gail I would put it on my calendar and meet them there.  Gail told me then I would have to sing and I said I would.  She held me to my promise today.

To my knowledge, there is only one resident in the three churches of the Holston GaP Parish at NHC.  I planned to visit her while I was there and was able to after the singing/music time finished.

Much to my surprise, a lady whom I recognized came in pushing her walker about midway into the singing and the playing.  It took me a moment to place her because I haven't seen her in over a year.  She was someone I visited regularly when I was at a previous church before I took this appointment as pastor.  I thought I recognized her, but I asked an employee to be sure.  It was her.  I took some time to talk with her, tell her my name, remind her how I knew her, how I used to visit her, and even that I visited her once on my motorcycle.  I gave her a business card to refer to later, just in case.  As I think back on the visits I had with her in her home, I am reminded that she has a birthday coming up fairly soon.

Seeing her 'all the way' in Rossville when I used to visit her in the Soddy Daisy area caught me off guard a little bit today.  But, it was a blessing. 

It was an added blessing to the music that was played and sung today.  Watching the residents clap their hands, tap their toes, and sing along with some of the songs was a blessing.  Getting to join in on a few of the songs was a blessing too. 

Roaming around the room talking with some of the residents and just being with them for that time period.... that was a blessing. 

Thank you God for the blessings of this day!

What blessings have you experienced in your journey today?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Morning Watch... great start to the day

It has been a few years since I have attended a morning watch in person.  The last one I attended was a camp reunion at Riverview in 2012. (Sadly, I missed this last November's reunion.) During the weekend reunion we had morning watch, a time of morning devotion, led by Ellen Roberts. 

Ellen Roberts leading morning watch at the reunion
Morning Watch area at Riverview Camp for Girls, Mentone, AL
What a treat that was.  Whether we were former campers, counselors, both, director, or other staff, morning watch with Ellen was a an integral part of camp life.  Every morning before breakfast, you could go to Morning Watch and get a word of encouragement, some daily bread.  I really never knew how meaningful and important those times were for me growing up.  I didn't realize that by setting aside a few moments in the morning to center myself and focus for the day, I was being prepared for the day. 

Honestly, I was just trying to get ready as fast as I could in the mornings, get out of the cabin and into the woods.  That's where morning watch was.  In the woods.  Benches (or old logs) set up in semi-circle fashion.  Nothing fancy.  But a space set apart. 

this sign wasn't there back in my day

Morning Watch at Camp Skyline (2012)
Space and time set apart to start the day.

That is something I learned early on in my life as a camper at camp and it has been a tremendous blessing to me.  I haven't always used mornings to carve out space and time for that reflection, but it is something I have come back to over the years.  I do find that my morning time allows me to center myself and prepare for the day.

Yesterday as I was on the patio reading through some different blogs, listening to the waterfall and the birds, I came across Ellen Robert's post.  It wasn't until later that I realized I had sat through Morning Watch with Ellen.  What I knew at the time is that those words touched me, much like many of the words she shared day after day, year after year during those morning watch times at camp.  This is a gifted woman of God who cares deeply for God and others and that investment has had a tremendous ripple effect.

Here is what Ellen wrote on July 7 at 2:02pm:

"Moments Like These. I don’t remember anything about the devotional message itself, but the title captivated me. I’m sure there are all kinds of moments that stand out in your mind…the most frightening or exciting or happiest or most rewarding. But what comes to my mind are the moments that have been the most meaningful, the most God-aware, the most peaceful…moments that connected me with people and God and that often taught me profound truths.

I remember walking on the beach in Panama City and realizing for the first time that there was no need to fear death, that heaven was assured. It was something I had known intellectually, but in that moment I felt the magnitude of that truth to my core. Blessed assurance….

I remember sitting atop a large rock on the ski slope overlooking camp, the cabins and children and activities in a distance, their sounds muffled so that I heard only the occasional sound of a door slamming shut or the bell ringing. I was absorbed instead by the fading of daylight and the illumination of the sky with stars. I remember taking in the beauty and peacefulness of that moment and the closeness of God and thinking that, if only I could come there every day, I could always keep things in perspective. Sometimes I still try to go there in my mind when the stresses of the day wear on me.

I remember what it’s like for 200 people to sit quietly on the river’s edge after dark, lit candles floating in the river and the voices of familiar songs slowing approaching. Those moments were filled with togetherness and meaning and holiness.

I remember times of deep sharing and prayer and the fellowship that comes with loving and trusting and appreciating those that God brings into one’s life. They are fireside moments and summer retreats and other shared moments in which God knit hearts and helped us grow.
I remember moments when God spoke…not the vague “I think this is what God is telling me” messages, but the rare times of certainty as His message, while not audible, was nonetheless loud and clear.

There are so many more. I know you have your own, and there may be some we have shared. It helps me to think back on moments like these, as they are reminders of the goodness and sacredness of life and, most assuredly, of the presence and faithfulness of God."

As I finished reading Ellen's writing, I looked up at the morning sky.  I noticed the clouds above me looked like they were in the formation of God's hand.  That's what they looked like to me.  I adore clouds anyway and enjoy shapes.  I have seen a hand in clouds a time or two before. 

I snapped a picture of the clouds and wrote my own thoughts for the morning:

"As I look up from my coffee and reading, I see these clouds. As I have just read Ellen Roberts' reflection on God, these clouds strike me as being formed as the hand of God above me. It may not look like a hand to anyone else, but as I continue to watch it, I see it. God's hand is over me. Blessed assurance." (July 8, 7:04am)


As I continue to grow in my faith journey, as life continues to press in around me, I know the importance of making space and time for pauses, for reflection.  These are the moments that allow us to redirect, refill, refresh, refocus.  We may need them more often than once a day in the morning.  There are days that I need pause moments much more frequently to hear the One Voice over the clanging of the many others in life. 

But, oh, a day like yesterday, just brought it all together for me in many ways.  Not only did I get a wonderful blessing from Ellen Roberts, a Morning Watch via Facebook (which she does quite often in her writings still), but I also got a visual reminder that God is Creator, God is present.

In addition, I was reminded that those things that we do early in our lives take deep root.  Even when we are unaware what is truly going on at the time, those things sink in to the depths of our being.  I am grateful for those camp days and Morning Watch.  

We also had evening campfire times with songs and we had church time on Sundays, but this blog post is about Morning Watch.  Overall, camp time played a big part of my spiritual foundation and formation.   Who would have ever thought that the kid who was in Brookwood cabin that first summer at Camp Skyline (in 197?), who put their clothes on the end of the bed and got dressed quietly before everyone else got up, and then made up the bed, did chores, and headed off to Morning Watch would one day become a pastor?!?!  Not me.

Our lives are a marvelous journey.  I am grateful for Ellen Roberts for having planted so many seeds of life along the way in mine and that she continues to offer Morning Watch to us.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Monday, July 4, 2016

The changing of the journals

I sit outside in the patio this morning, enjoying a cup of Costa Rican coffee, the fountain, the birds, and an ever slight breeze.

As I journal my thoughts in my "Advice From A Mountain" journal, the dreaded moment comes. There is no more paper. It is over. But it isn't.  Not knowing when I might finish this journal, when I happened upon "Advice From a Tree" at the Master General Store in Waynesville, NC last year, I picked it up.

Since 2010 my journals have been nature based. I picked up "Advice From A River" and "Advice From A Mountain" in Cape San Blas on a girls trip to the beach.

You can find blog entries about both of these journals within my blog, so I won't say too much about those themes.  (I have also picked up t-shirts that are nature based: "Advice From A Mountain" and "Advice From a Waterfall".  You'll find those in the blogs too.)

[Advice From A River..Go with the Flow-- 7/29/11]
[Advice From Nature-- 6/10/13]
[From the River to the Mountain-- 9/19/13]
[Follow the trails of the wise ones-- 7/22/14]


I will say that each theme has fit where I was in life at the moment, giving me additional support and strength to continue the journey.

As I finished "Advice From A Mountain" this morning, I am somewhat sad to let it go. Among other things, it has reminded me to stand in the strength of my True Nature, rise above it all, and climb beyond my limitations.

How very fitting as I finish this journal, that I was handed a heart rock yesterday morning at church by one of the members. She had found it on a recent trip to Louisiana. She knows that I love nature and creation and see hearts everywhere.


This heart rock reminds me that I will continue to learn and grow from the mountains and rocks.

The journal ends with these pages:



As I transition to my new journal, what advice from nature will be my guide?


"Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your Roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the Light of your true nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb

Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields it's own abundance
The energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go like leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter

Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, Fresh Air, Light

Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the
breezes
Be flexible
Remember your Roots

Enjoy the View!"

As someone who thoroughly enjoys the Creator's handiwork and connects with the Creator through creation, I look forward to my continued journaling journey with this journal by Ilan Shamir.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S.-- If you're interested in these journals, check out their website: Yourtruenature



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Year of Birthdays in the GaP


I don't remember the exact day or time that it hit me last summer, but as I was contemplating what I might do my first year in the Holston GaP Parish to reach as many members as possible, it struck me that I was to send birthday cards.  Why birthday cards, you might ask?  I don't know.  It was a Holy Spirit "nudge".  What I do know about this year of birthday cards is that it has been a blessing to me and that it truly was a way to reach quite a few people in the GaP. 

My first step was to get a list of all the birthdays in the GaP.  I was given a document (thanks, Mary!) of all the birthdays that were recorded in the system, listed by month and day with the church next to each name.  That was extremely helpful as I went through the year and could begin to place names and faces at each church.

When I first started sending those cards in July of 2015, I didn't know really know anyone very well.  I had met quite a few folks back in April at my SPRC and again at the first GaP Leadership meeting in June, but those weren't necessarily the first ones with birthdays.

Each birthday card was an opportunity for me to pray for the person as I wrote out the card and sent it.  As I started getting to know some people, it was easier to personalize the birthday cards. 

My main goal (as stated) was to reach as many folks as possible, physically and through a systematic way of prayer.  It was a blessing for me to be able to reach out and pray in this way.

Though I didn't really have any expectations in doing this venture, I had some unexpected learning experiences during the year.  For example, when cards came back, I had the opportunity to play detective to try to find current addresses.  Some were found; others weren't.  Some of that detective work led me to conversations with others in the community. 

I know I didn't catch everyone's birthday.  Some folks aren't on the birthday list.  And some that are on the list we don't have addresses for them for one reason or another (some are grand-kids and great-grand-kids).  Sometimes, I was able to still find addresses.  But not all the time.

I was reminded through this experience that there is still something special, even today in our age of technology, for someone to receive a card in the mail.  There were several comments throughout the year that made that clear to me.  That was something that was unexpected for me, but good to learn. 

There were 205 birthday cards that went out since last July.  Everyone on the list, even those that might night have had addresses to send a card to, were prayed for during the year.  That means 205 cards and 205+ stamps (those that were returned got sent back out). 

Another plus to doing this was that the birthday list got updated.  Names and birthdays got added to the list and we were able to find some that no longer attend or those that are celebrating their birthdays now with Jesus.

At the very end of the birthday journey, I learned a great hint at the last Provisional Elder retreat when sending out cards:  fill them out weeks or a month at a time, write the birthday on the corner of the envelope, and mail as needed.  That might have been helpful earlier in the year.  But, that's okay.  My system seemed to work out okay. 

As I begin this second year, I have been praying about THIS YEAR'S focus.  I wondered if it would be another year of birthday cards.  It isn't.

What I feel "nudged" to do this year is to focus on the shut-ins in the GaP.   Though I visited quite a few this past year, this year they will be the focus.  What exactly will that mean?  I don't exactly know, though I have an idea.  

I have a list of all the shut-ins for the GaP from last year, but I will work with the 3 churches to make sure it is accurate and up-to-date.  I have heard from folks that they'd like to be able to send cards to the shut-ins, so we will likely have those addresses more readily available.  I imagine more visits to the shut-ins will be a part of this year as will birthday (and other) cards.  I plan to engage the laity in each church and to join in with whatever they are already doing for/with the shut-ins and/or have them join me. 

I recently learned that Gail Coleman, one of the Fort Oglethorpe UMC singers/guitar players, goes to a local retirement home (NHC in Rossville, GA) on the second Tuesday of each month with some other folks to sing and play.  I plan to join them in their outreach.  I have already been told that if I show up, I'd better plan on singing with them.  I look forward to 'making a joyful noise unto the Lord'.

What will this second year look like as I open myself up to the nudging of the Holy Spirit? Though I have shared some of my thoughts and ideas, I don't really know what it will look like.  I'm going to attempt to trust and obey the Spirit as the year goes along, much like I did for the year of birthdays.

I don't know what "nudges" you are getting from the Holy Spirit on your journey or in your areas of daily life and ministry opportunities.  Whatever they are, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and follow the nudges wherever they may lead.

To God be the glory in this adventurous journey!

Debra

Morning Has Broken

I slept in a little longer than normal this morning, allowing the numbers on the clock to hit 7am before I got up.  After making coffee, I stepped outside to the back patio to enjoy it. I glanced over and this view from the deck.


As I took in the scene,  the first words to hit my brain were: "morning has broken."  Yes, it is a new day. The words to the song/hymn kept coming: "morning has broken, like the first morning. blackbirds are singing"  Well, I hear birds, but they aren't blackbirds.

Then, I realized that I needed to look up the words because I was getting them confused.  Sure enough, "blackbird has spoken".  The singing comes next.

In looking up the lyrics, I learned about Eleanor Farjeon, the author of the song in 1931 and how Cat Stevens made this poem/song popular in 1971.

A good link is this one: Oyster Mouth Parish


Lyrics: (from http://www.hymnlyrics.org/hymns_camp/morning_has_broken.php)

Morning has broken, like the first morning, 
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. 
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning, 
Praise for them springing fresh from the word. 

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven, 
Like the first dew fall on the first grass. 
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass. 

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning, 
Born of the one light Eden saw play.
Praise with elation, praise every morning, 
God's re-creation of the new day. 

Cool the gray clouds roll, peaking the mountains,
Gull in her free flight, swooping the skies. 
Praise for the mystery, misting the morning, 
Behind the shadow, waiting to shine. 

I am the sunrise, warming the heavens, 
Spilling my warm glow over the earth
Praise for the brightness of this new morning, 
Filling my spirit with Your great love. 

Mine is a turning, mine is a new life, 
Mine is a journey closer to You. 
Praise for the sweet glimpse, caught in a moment, 
Joy breathing deeply, dancing in flight. (repeat)
---------------------
One never knows what a new day will bring. My prayer is that I live into today fully present, open to God's working, and ready to shine the light and love of the Creator.  May it be so for you as well.

Blessings on your new day and journey,
Debra