Friday, January 29, 2016

Detours...unexpected blessings

Today is a gorgeous Friday.  Clear blue skies.  It's even going to warm up here in TN some. 

Last Friday was a different story.  It was raining.  There was a wintry storm heading our way.  It was cold.  In fact, there was SNOW in the forecast.  That's not so bad.  But, I was preparing to head out of town for a youth event in Pigeon Forge, Resurrection.

After a meeting at the high school for my kiddo, I went back home to get ready for the trip.  Then I headed out toward Rossville, GA where I planned to work for a little while before getting the van at the rental location.  My first stop was going to be the pharmacy to get a prescription and say hi/bye to my favorite pharmacist.

As I was cresting Boy Scout Road in the cold rain, I noticed someone walking on the left side of the road.  Something told me to slow down and offer them a ride, so I did.  When I offered, she accepted.  I asked where she was heading and she asked where I was going.  I told her I was going to Food City and then to Rossville, GA.  At first she said that was good enough.  I asked again where she needed to go.  She told me that she lived in the highway 58/Washington Hills area.  I told her I could go that way and still make my way to Rossville, GA.  Would that be a detour on my route?  Yes, but nobody needed to be walking in that cold and rainy weather.  The wintry mix could start anytime.  The local school system had just called to let us all know that schools would be letting out early that day.

Together we went to the pharmacy to get my prescription.  I learned that she had taken a taxi to the Hixson area to visit a cousin in order to get some funds to help buy diapers for her little one and didn't want to pay the taxi fare to get back home.  I couldn't blame her.  She could buy quite a few diapers for the taxi fare. 

My new friend is studying vet medicine at Chattanooga State while raising her little one.  She works too.   Life isn't easy, but she is doing the best she can.  We talked some about life and such in our short commute.  I told her about two churches in her area of town, St. John UMC and Washington Hills UMC.  I told her if she needed anything, to go to either one of them.  I also gave her my card and asked her to let me know how things are going for her in school, etc. 

When we got to her house, I asked if I could pray for her and she said yes.
What an encouraging detour to my day.  It was a blessing to help someone stay warm and dry on such a cold and wet day.  It was a blessing to meet someone who loves animals and is working her way through school.

My thoughts and prayers are with my friend "T" as she studies, works, and raises her son. 

One never knows what adventures await us when the Holy Spirit nudges us to "stop", do we?!?!

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Being a Citizen and Doing Something For the Community

I had one of those "a-ha" moments yesterday.  You know, when the light bulb goes off (figuratively) in your head and things become clear.  Mine happened yesterday as I sat in the Blood Assurance office in Fort Oglethorpe, GA with a needle in my arm drawing blood from me.

I had gone in yesterday for my 2nd donation of platelets.  My first platelet donation was in December.

I was scheduled to give again on New Year's Eve, but had to reschedule because they closed the office early that day.  Yesterday was the first appointment that worked out with my schedule.

Prior to my platelet donation, I have given blood as often as possible. I am O- and O negative blood is a universal donor type.  That means they like my blood.  Giving platelets takes more time than giving blood.  But it also is "worth" more than one blood donation.  I learned that the first time I donated platelets.  One unit of platelets is worth 5 units of regular blood.  At least I think that's the statistics I saw on the whiteboard.  I took a picture last time to remember.  I'll find it and post it here.

My light bulb moment, my epiphany... what was it?

I realized yesterday in that chair that not only am I donating platelets (and plasma yesterday for the first time additionally), but I am also in a situation to build relationships and community.

Though I have given before at other locations and have gotten to know faces and names of the workers, I really hadn't considered Blood Assurance as a place to build community.  But, it is.

I am going to the Fort Oglethorpe location because it is in the heart of my ministry community.  In my appointment, the churches I serve are in Walker and Catoosa counties-- Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC, and Flintstone UMC.  Otherwise known as the Holston Georgia (GaP) Parish.  When I first received my appointment, my insider Blood Assurance contact Tony Burgess told me he would start scheduling me at Fort Oglethorpe.  That made sense to me.  Neither of us at the time knew I would start donating platelets.

I donated blood twice at Fort Oglethorpe prior to my first platelet donation.  In those donations, I observed community in that people who came to donate knew the workers and the workers knew them.   I didn't really make any big connections, but I did start to get to know some people.

It was that first time I went in to give platelets that I had an opportunity to get to know the workers a little better.  There is something about sitting in that recliner for an extended period of time that allows that.  Prior to my donation, one of the workers needed to leave due to an emergency in her family.  As she left, I told her I would pray and before I left that day, I wrote a short note on the back of one of my cards and left it for her, letting her know I was praying for her.

When I went in yesterday, she remembered me and thanked me for the note.  I asked about her family member and she updated me.   Things were going well.  Good news.

I got hooked up to the machine and learned I was eligible to donate two units.  Apologies to all who need it, but yesterday I didn't really have the time to donate the two units because we were running an hour late in getting started, so I opted for the one unit and donated platelets and plasma.

In my time in the recliner, I got to know one of the other workers that I had not seen before, a floater who goes around to the different locations.

Donating blood, platelets, and plasma is really being a citizen.  It is doing what is needed for those in our community who need it.  But it is more than that.  By taking the time to donate, I realized yesterday that I am also allowing myself the opportunity to build community with others.

Even though Tony Burgess intentionally set me up at Fort Oglethorpe to be IN community, it didn't occur to me until yesterday that it might really be possible to build community through blood, platelets, and plasma donations.

Two reasons that's important to me... one, as a pastor, we need to make sure that we are IN community and out of the physical church buildings in order to build community within our communities.  Though I do that as often as possible (you will find me in coffee shops, latino stores, etc.), I am not necessarily building connections and community all the time.

I say that this is important for pastors.  Only as a model.  It's really important for all folks who ARE the church and desire to live the love of Christ in the world.   If we aren't in the community, making connections, doing our part as citizens, and sharing light and love, then what ARE we doing?

Is being in the community only for pastors and those who desire to share Christ?  No, it's really for all of us.  As citizens in our communities, we are all called to find those places where we can connect with others, where we can engage in conversation, where we can get to know others, where we can share life with one another, where we can help one another.

For those who can, donate blood, platelets, and plasma.  There are many people who need it.  They will appreciate it and you might be amazed at what happens in your own life through it.

If you are unable to give or if that isn't for you, then look around for other opportunities to be a citizen in your community, to get out into the community, to be with the community, to serve the community, to connect with the community, to build relationships in and with the community.  Because we are each uniquely made and have unique gifts to offer others, we all have something to offer others. Once we figure that out and start to do it, consider sharing with others your stories so that others will get ideas and/or be inspired to get out and use what they have.

If you're willing, share your stories with me.  I'd like to hear your adventures. Reply to this post in the comments area.

It is when we all do our part with and for one another that we will truly be a healthy community, in more ways than one.

Blessings on your journey,


P.S.  If you'd like to know more about Blood Assurance, check out their website here.

If you don't have Blood Assurance in your area, check out the American Red Cross (that's where I gave my first donation on Long Island).

If you'd like to know more about donating platelets or plasma in general, check out this link:

Donating Platelets

NOTE:  The places that buy plasma don't use it for transfusion in hospital or other medical settings.  It is used for pharmaceutical and other settings. [See "Can I Get Paid To Donate" under FAQ at this link from Blood Assurance.]

Monday, January 4, 2016

Epiphany Sunday 2016-- Honor the New Born King

Yesterday was a busy and long day for me as a pastor.  But it was also a very blessed day.  Both services at Fort Oglethorpe and Simpson were a blessing through the music, sharing in Holy Communion, and being in community with the folks at each church there.

Originally, because of Communion and the fact that I knew I needed to get to Simpson afterwards, we had rescheduled the "Special Music" at Fort Oglethorpe for after the sermon.  But as the praise team was warming up with "10,000 Reasons" and "Spirit of the Living God", something inside said to switch the special music back to its original place before the sermon.  So I did.  And I'm glad. 

It's one of those God things, too.  Pamper wasn't sure why God had given her that particular song to begin with as she didn't see how it fit with the service.  But, it did.  In fact, it was a powerful song and it fit perfectly.  Thank you, Pamper, for listening and following through with obedience!

Here is the song that Pamper played and sang:

"Holy Spirit, living Breath of God" by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty

HOLY SPIRIT, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause your word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for your purity;
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.

Holy Spirit, come abide within,
May your joy be seen in all I do.
Love enough to cover every sin
In each thought and word and attitude:
Kindness to the greatest and the least,
Gentleness that sows the path of peace.
Turn my strivings into works of grace;
Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.

Holy Spirit, from creation's birth,
Giving life to all that God has made.
Show your power once again on earth
Cause your church to hunger for your ways.
May the fragrance of our prayers arise;
Lead us on the road of sacrifice,
That in unity the face of Christ
May be clear for all the world to see.

Copyright © 2005 Kingsway's Thankyou Music

For more Getty music, go to their website by clicking here or by typing in the address:

Here is the sermon from yesterday.  Remember that what is written isn't necessarily what is spoken during the service.  Things are changed, either added or taken away or simply said differently.  But, the general focus of the message is here.

"Honor the New Born King"
January 3, 2016 (Epiphany)
Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC, Simpson UMC
Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

THANKS BE TO GOD.                                                                          

Today is Epiphany Sunday. It is also the 10th day of Christmas and we have just entered a new year, 2016.  This Wednesday, we celebrate a special Epiphany service on Epiphany, a bilingual service in the community of Rossville at McFarland UMC. There will be food, fellowship, and worship.  All are invited.  

In addition to where we are on the calendar as church and society, today as a church family, we have the service of a dear departed one who has gone home to be with the king of kings and lord of lords, Wilma Scott. Though a member at Simpson UMC, she often attended Fort Oglethorpe UMC.   If you haven't heard, that service is today at 2pm at Wilson's in Ringgold on Boynton. 

How do all these things come together today?

First, let's talk about what Epiphany is-- "Epiphany is the day and season in the church when we patiently wait and listen as God is quietly revealed before us once again.  [...] Contemporary observances of Epiphany include the coming of the wise men with gifts for the Christ child and the baptism of Jesus.  The season concludes with Transfiguration Sunday.  Epiphany is the time when the church gathers to remember and reflect upon the mighty acts of God in the birth of Christ." (67, A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God)

In today's passage, the wise men from the East went to Jerusalem and asked about the child who was born.  They had seen the star rise and followed it thus far to find the child.  Word got to King Herod and the King summoned the men.  Herod used his resources to determine where the baby likely was born, met with the wise men, and sent them out to find the child and then return to him because he too would like to pay him homage. If King Herod really wanted to pay homage to the Christ child, why didn't he take what he learned from his advisors and travel himself?!  But, this king of the country is feeling threatened by the newborn child that was prophesied to become king.  Notice how he behaves as he feels that his position is no longer secure.  

The wise men get their directional path in Jerusalem and continue their journey to honor the new born king.  When they left Jerusalem and headed toward Bethlehem, the star they had previously seen was there for them to follow.

Verses 9-11 "When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

The star stopped over where the child was.  Child.  They were overwhelmed with joy.  They had made it to their destination.  They entered the house.  Notice "house".  Not stable.  Then they opened their treasure chests and offered the gifts they brought him.

How many wise men are there?  It doesn't say, does it?!  Historically we have narrowed it down to three, based on the three gifts that are given to the Christ child, but we really don't know how many there were.  And, we tend to focus on them more as "wise men" than "magi" too.  

After the wise men / magi presented their gifts, they went home by a different route because they had been warned in a dream that Herod's intentions weren't so noble.

Besides realizing that we tend to condense the entire nativity scene all into one every year, what can we learn from today's passage?

Each of us may have a different take away today.  Maybe we are to pay attention to creation, to what the Creator tells us in creation.  Maybe we are to listen to our dreams and trust our instincts.  Maybe we are to be filled with joy along the journey, especially when we reach milestones of certain destinations.

At Epiphany, we celebrate that the wise men travelled to honor the new born king and that they brought gifts.  These gifts were valuable items:  frankincense--incense or perfume; gold-- a precious metal to represent the title of king; and  myrrh--an anointing oil was used in burial preparation.
As we begin a new year, we recognize that we start anew.  We start fresh with our lives with Christ, with one another, and with everything.  We have the opportunity to allow our relationship with Christ to grow deeper.  How will we honor the new born king?

Maybe one way to honor Christ this year in our churches will be to prepare for our dreaming and visioning sessions this month in January.  Read the questions and pray.  Come prepared to share where you see God at work in the community and how you think we can honor Christ in serving him.

John Wesley wrote a Covenant Prayer that he used with his people. Please turn in your hymnals to #607 and read with me: (As we read these words, let's be intentional in our reading and focus and allow them to penetrate our hearts, minds, and souls.)

Wesley Covenant Prayer (A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition)

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.

In closing today, hear these words by Dr. Howard Thurman, an influential African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader:

 "The Work of Christmas" by Dr. Howard Thurman (from The Mood of Christmas)

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

May it be so.


Blessings on your journey, 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Celebrating a life well lived... Wilma Scott

Today I had the privilege and honor of officiating my first funeral as a pastor.  I have participated in two funerals prior-- one was a memorial for a special young man a year after his death and the other I was asked to share in a service for a lady I had spent time visiting with at a previous church. 

But I hadn't done an official funeral in my role as pastor, nor one in a funeral home.

Until today.

My copastor and I shared the responsibilities and that made it even more special.  To share the experience with my copastor and to be able to honor this woman's life today at the funeral home and at the graveside was a super blessing.

The folks at the funeral home were super in their directions and help.

Rebecca Cook, a friend of the family, sang "Amazing Grace" and "In the Garden".  Her brother-in-law played the violin at the beginning and end of the service.  I didn't get a chance to meet him.  Brian, I believe, is his name.  He played beautifully. 

Wanda, a family friend, read Psalm 23 and also shared some family stories and anecdotes about Wilma.  She brought some sweet moments and humor into the service.

I shared Scripture from John and Pastor Tommy brought the message.

At the graveside, the weather was perfect.  The sun was bright and it had warmed up enough to be outside without a jacket. 

We read a little more Scripture, had a prayer, and Dale shared a very appropriate poem.  Wilma had asked that something be read at the service that would be meaningful to others.  This poem by Rumi is a beautiful poem about death.  It is entitled "When I Die..."

When I die…

When I die
when my coffin
is being taken out
you must never think
i am missing this world

don’t shed any tears
don’t lament or
feel sorry
i’m not falling
into a monster’s abyss

when you see
my corpse is being carried
don’t cry for my leaving
i’m not leaving
i’m arriving at eternal love

when you leave me
in the grave
don’t say goodbye
remember a grave is
only a curtain
for the paradise behind

you’ll only see me
descending into a grave
now watch me rise
how can there be an end
when the sun sets or
the moon goes down

it looks like the end
it seems like a sunset
but in reality it is a dawn
when the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed

have you ever seen
a seed fallen to earth
not rise with a new life
why should you doubt the rise
of a seed named human

have you ever seen
a bucket lowered into a well
coming back empty
why lament for a soul
when it can come back
like Joseph from the well

when for the last time
you close your mouth
your words and soul
will belong to the world of
no place no time

~ RUMI, ghazal number 911,
translated May 18, 1992, by Nader Khalili.

Rumi is a 13th century poet.  I have read quite a few quotes off and on by Rumi, but this poem was new to me.  I have come to understand that 'all truth is God's truth', so I enjoy finding nuggets like this one.  It was a blessing that Dale shared this with us today.

I first met Wilma six months ago in the hospital.  Pastor Tommy and I went to visit her together in the hospital. It was our first hospital visit together and my first hospital visit on the appointment.  Wilma had just learned that day from the doctor about her diagnosis.  It was not an easy visit, but it was a good one.  She was strong and positive.  She was encouraging.  We shared, we laughed, we prayed.  From the very beginning she was an encouragement to me.  That day she looked over at Tommy and said to him, "I think I'm going to like her."  She talked about me and Tommy being a good team.

Throughout Wilma's journey she and I spoke from time to time. She came to church when she felt strong and able.  I sent cards. I texted and emailed. 

Tommy and I were going to try to visit her together two weeks ago, but she was too tired from a procedure.  I spoke and prayed with her on the phone Christmas Eve when I learned from her friend Margaret Anne that she wasn't doing well.  Then I visited her in the hospital on Saturday, the day after Christmas. 

She was sitting up in the chair.  One of her sisters, Martha, was there.  I was able to visit with her that day too.  We talked a bit and prayed.  I stayed a little longer than I would normally in a visit, but the timing seemed right.  I had taken one of my wooden prayer crosses with me that day and knew that I was to leave it with her, so I did.  I had also taken my anointing oil and asked her if I could pray with her and anoint her with oil.  She said yes, so I did.  She was encouraging to me in our conversation and shared that God had given her a vision for the churches and for Pastor Tommy and myself.

Even though she was having some pain, she had peace.  She was a beautiful example of finishing well.  She was more concerned about her family than herself.  At one moment while we were talking, she mentioned that she wanted her daughter there.  So I called her and left a message.  Wilma's sister came back in the room and had just been talking with her. 

I met one of the sisters I hadn't met previously, Audrey, and a niece (who is more like another daughter), Elena, on Sunday when I went back after church to visit.  And, sitting on the shelf was a colorful sock monkey that the daughter had brought from home for Wilma.  That was cool.  Something about that just touched my heart and soul. 

When I left, I called the daughter and shared that I thought it was cool, that I had visited her mom again, and for her to let me know if she needed anything.

I went back on Wednesday morning.  Annette, the daughter was there.  I had only met her once, at that first hospital visit.  I was glad that I got to see her again.  A good friend of Wilma's from teenager days, Eileen, was there.  She shared some good stories from the good ole days.  Wilma was being taken care of in the hospital by hospice.  She was resting.  After a little while her daughter woke her up so we could all visit and pray.  It was a sweet time.  I was perplexed by one thing Wilma asked/said.  She mentioned something about me having been around alot of people.  Maybe I should have asked her what she meant.  But I didn't.  The day I had visited her when she sat in the chair, she told me she felt someone sit next to her.  I didn't doubt that she knew Jesus' presence with her.  I wasn't sure if Wilma meant I had been around too many people literally or not, so I told her that in truth I had been taking some time to be at home and had spent some time in the woods with Riley (my husband).  As I have reflected on her statement, I wonder if somehow she knew that I have been with many people at the end of their journey?!?!  Because I have.  It's a journey I have walked with quite a few people over the years.  I didn't ask.  I won't ever know.  It's okay.  What mattered most to me was simply being with in the moment.  Being with the friend, being with the daughter, being with Wilma.

I told Wilma that she had blessed me tremendously, kissed her forehead, and left the room.  The three of us stood in the hallway for a few minutes together before I left. 

To have known Wilma so very briefly and her family even less, I have been very blessed by her life and theirs.  When you meet someone who lives a well-lived life and who lives it well through the dying process, it is special.  I have been blessed to meet several and to share part of the journey with several. 

It was an honor and a privilege to be part of the family's celebration of Wilma' life today.  A very unexpected blessing for me this afternoon was the colorful sock monkey that had been in the hospital room.  Wilma's sock monkey.   Thank you, Annette, for passing along such a sweet and beautiful memory.

Peace and blessings on the journey,

Click here for the link to Wilma's obituary at Wilson Funeral home.

A link to poetry appropriate to share at death. (