Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Prophecy Fulfilled"--message prepared to give at White Oak UMC

I love snow!!  It was wonderful to wake up in my hometown to snow.  More and more snow came down as the morning continued.  I'll write more about that later.  I thought I'd share a message I wrote for today.  I had been asked to speak at a local church as a Lay Speaker for today, but because of inclement weather, the majority of local churches were cancelled for today.  Here is the message.

White Oak United Methodist Church, Red Bank
December 26, 2010

Matthew 2:13-23 (New International Reader’s Version) [this version is based on the NIV, but has been adapted for easier reading and comprehension]

13 When the Wise Men had left, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. "Get up!" the angel said. "Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to come back. Herod is going to search for the child. He wants to kill him."
 14 Joseph got up. During the night, he left for Egypt with the child and his mother Mary. 15 They stayed there until King Herod died. So the words the Lord had spoken through the prophet came true. He had said, "I chose to bring my son out of Egypt."—(Hosea 11:1)
 16 Herod realized that the Wise Men had tricked him. So he became very angry. He gave orders concerning Bethlehem and the area around it. All the boys two years old and under were to be killed. This agreed with the time when the Wise Men had seen the star.
 17 In this way, the words the prophet Jeremiah spoke came true. He had said,

 18 "A voice is heard in Ramah.
      It's the sound of crying and deep sadness.
   Rachel is crying over her children.
      She refuses to be comforted,
   because they are gone." —(Jeremiah 31:15)
     19 After Herod died, Joseph had a dream while he was still in Egypt. In the dream an angel of the Lord appeared to him. 20 The angel said, "Get up! Take the child and his mother. Go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead."
 21 So Joseph got up. He took the child and his mother Mary back to the land of Israel. 22 But then he heard that Archelaus was king of Judea. Archelaus was ruling in place of his father Herod. This made Joseph afraid to go there.
   Warned in a dream, Joseph went back to the land of Galilee instead. 23 There he lived in a town called Nazareth. So what the prophets had said about Jesus came true. They had said, "He will be called a Nazarene."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This morning, I want us to try to get an inside look at this story, to try to put ourselves into the story, and then to figure out where we are in the overall story.

Today is December 26th, the first day of Christmas.  We’re reading that the Wise Men had just left.  But in our calendar, they haven’t even come yet.  They’re not scheduled to come until January 6th, Epiphany.   The twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany are two whole other discussions we could have, so I’d better stick to today’s Scripture.

Let’s get the setting:  the wise men (the magi) have been to visit the Christ child.  They brought him gifts (frankincense, gold, myrrh).  Where we come into the story today, they have left the scene.  After they left, Joseph had a dream.  This is not the first time Joseph has gotten a message in a dream.  Earlier in Matthew we are told that Joseph learned in a dream that the child Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was to be named “Immanuel”.  (see Matthew 1:20-24)

This time, in Joseph’s dream, he is told to flee, to escape to Egypt with his family, for their safety.  Joseph got up, got his family ready and left.  Joseph obeyed.  He didn’t question the authority of the dream.  He trusted what he heard based on previous experience.  He got up from his sleep, he awakened his family, and took off for Egypt.  I think most fathers would relate to the protective nature of Joseph.  He is going to take care of his family.  What amazes me besides his obedience, however, is his faith.  To our knowledge, Joseph doesn’t have contacts in Egypt.  Herod is after his child, so there is no time to search for places to stay along the route via or  Joseph must simply go.  And he does.  Joseph and his family get to Egypt and stay there until King Herod dies.

While they were still in Egypt, Joseph has another dream.  This dream tells him that Herod is dead and it is now safe to return to the land of Israel.  So, Joseph gets up, gets his family and heads back.  But he hears that Archelaus was the king of Judea.  He ruled for 10 years after his father’s death.  (Thayer’s Lexicon) Joseph was afraid to go where Archelaus was. 

Joseph had another dream.  In this dream he was warned to not go back to Judea where Archelaus ruled, but rather to Galilee.  [Just to help us out geographically, Judea is a region of southern Palestine and Galilee is a region of northern Palestine.]  Joseph settled with his family in the town of Nazareth, which is in lower Galilee, and about a three day’s journey from Jerusalem. (Thayer’s Lexicon) [“Three day’s journey in this reference didn’t explain by which mode of transportation.  Further research reveals Nazareth to be about 65 miles from Jerusalem.]

As with Joseph’s obedience to all of his dreams, this fulfilled prophecy.  Joseph paid attention to the dreams and obeyed what he was told to do.  Each time, he took “the next step”. 

When I look at Joseph, I see him as a hero.  He saved his family.  I doubt Joseph would have considered himself a hero, especially not as he was fleeing his country with his family, not knowing where he was going to stay or how he was going to provide for his family.   As I read through the Scriptures and through other materials, it struck me that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were refugees.

One definition of “refugees” that I found mentioned refugees to be “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances”.  In addition, a refugee is someone who is outside the country of his nationality due to fear of being persecuted.  In Joseph and Mary’s case, the fear was that Herod was going to kill their son, Jesus.  The threat was real.  And, in fact, Herod gave orders for all boys two years and under to be killed.  Fleeing to Egypt and seeking safety there was what the family had to do.

This got me thinking.  And thinking can be dangerous.  I thought about those today who flee their homelands out of fear.  Some of those people seek safety throughout the world. Some of those people seek safety here in the United States.  Some of those seek refuge here in Chattanooga.

I want to share a little bit from a story with you about refugees in Sudan, in Darfur.  These words are from a friend of mine who currently lives and serves as a missionary over there in “Camel Land”. 

there are a lot of refugees in sudan - and a lot in darfur.  something
that sticks out to me among refugees is attitude.  there are those who
have lost children and families and came to the idp (internally
displaced persons) camps and immediately began to find work and provide
for their families and never ever complain (almost to the point of not
even acknowledging the huge loss/change that occurred in their lives).
and there are others who came to idp camps and just sat on the ground
and waited to be given food.  in other words they became victims.  and i
think that there are times that everyone needs help and support, but
there is a difference between accepting help and taking on the role of a
victim.  and i know women who have faced horrible things, who daily
struggle to provide for their families, and they never look back and
they would never consider themselves victims of the war in darfur.  it
would never occur to them to feel sorry for themselves.  rather they
accept this as something that the lord has brought into their lives and
they will (blindly) trust him and follow him and just deal with the
situation and never look back at what could have/should have been.

This past week, in Wednesdays’ paper, there was an article about a refugee from Cuba and his family settling in our area, in Hixson.  The article was about their struggles in their home country, their adaptations to their new life here, and about being recipients of the “neediest cases fund”.  The reason they left Cuba?  “to live freely and express themselves without fear.”

Now, let’s get back to Joseph and his family.  They fled to Egypt.  They were refugees in Egypt.  I wonder how the folks in Egypt treated Joseph and his family? 

Let’s put ourselves into the story.  We’ve already thought about ourselves from Joseph’s point of view (if we are fathers).  Let’s think about ourselves as Egyptians.  We’re in our town and this family of three shows up from Israel.  They look a little different from us, they speak a little different from us (though we might understand some of what they say if they speak a common trade language).  How would we have responded to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they sought to navigate our town?

How do we treat those seeking refuge?

In the United Methodist Church, we have the General Board of Global Ministries, better known by its initials GBGM).  On their website, one of the areas of ministry is “Immigration/Refugees”. 
From the website, here is some information about the Refugee Sponsorship Program: “Today United Methodists can embody gospel hospitality by reaching out to refugees coming to the United States. Refugee families struggle to make a new start and recover from the losses they have suffered as a result of their flight for survival. The church community, supported by UMCOR, can ease the way.”  As United Methodists, we support UMCOR through our conference askings, the apportionments we pay.

If you’re not aware, there is an organization in town called “Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services”.  They actively seek to help refugees settle, provide them with interpreters, sponsors, and case management.  I’ve heard about “Bridge” for several years, but I haven’t worked with them.  I have met a few folks that do.  They do important work.  Maybe some of you know more than I do and have even volunteered with the organization.  The article I mentioned about the refugee from Cuba referenced this organization as it helped this family settle and find employment.  For those who would like to know more, they have good information on their website about what they do here in Chattanooga, what churches sponsor them, etc. 

There are also other organizations in town that help immigrants that have come to live here.  Among them are La Paz de Dios and the St. Andrews Center.  The St. Andrews Center houses a variety of organizations and ministries and is affiliated with the Chattanooga District UMC.

But, what if helping immigrants and refugees isn’t what God has given us to do?  Then, I’d say that we need to prayerfully consider what aspect of “the least, the last, the lost” God has given us to help.  There are other options: helping the homeless, the hungry, the orphans, the widowed, etc.

In Matthew 25, there is a Kingdom story where Jesus teaches the disciples that whoever they help out in need, they are helping Him.  They didn’t get it.   They didn’t see Jesus hungry, thirsty or in any other kind of need.  If they had, they would have met his need. 

Charlie Brown got it.  I recently found The Parables of PEANUTS by Robert Short.  I have learned much about life from cartoons and collect strips that contain some sort of life message.  Charles M. Schulz has entertained and taught us.  In this particular cartoon strip, Violet is observing Charlie Brown looking at a birdhouse he is holding.  He says: “This birdhouse is going to be for sparrows only!”  She responds: “For sparrows? Nobody builds birdhouses for sparrows Charlie Brown…”  He replies: “I do!”  And in the last frame, as he is walking off, he says: “I always stick up for the underbird!” 

Charlie Brown sticks up for the “underbird”.  What Jesus is asking of us in Matthew 25, throughout his teachings and ministry is that we meet the needs of all--that we “stick up for the underbird”.  

Who is the “underbird “that Jesus is asking you, me to help?  Joseph stuck up for his family, Charlie Brown stuck up for the sparrows.

One of my favorite passages is Micah 6:8, because for me it sums up how I’m to live, how I want to live. 

Micah 6:8 (NIV)
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly with your God.

And just to hear a slightly different version:

Micah 6:8 (New International Reader’s Version)
The Lord has shown you what is good.
      He has told you what he requires of you.
   You must treat people fairly.
      You must love others faithfully.
   And you must be very careful to live
      the way your God wants you to.

What about you?  What about me?

How can we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

What is God calling us to do in the wake of the birth of the Christ child?

May we, like Joseph, obey.



May we be guided by the Holy Spirit to follow the way of Christ so that all may recognize Christ in us and experience Christ’s love through us.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Small deeds can change the world.

"Small deeds can change the world." (Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot, 116)

The chapter from which this quote comes is entitled "Trust LITTLE Deeds".  Lucado shares several examples where someone has done something small that grew into something bigger.  They didn't know that their simple act of kindness would become something bigger.  They simply did what they knew they were to do. 

You may have heard the expression "Pay It Forward" and you may have seen the movie of the same name.  The basic line is that someone does something kind for someone else, repaying someone else's kindness to them.

We can all do acts, deeds of kindness.  In the movie "Evan Almighty", they were referred to as "Acts of Random Kindness" or "ARK" for short. 

What does it require of us?  Our willingness to use who we are and what we have.  It may take some time and energy as well.  

In reading the chapter by Lucado, I learned several interesting stories. 

1--Pilot Bohn Fawkes sustained hits on the tanks of his B-17 in World War II, but the plane did not explode.  When the technicians opened up the missiles, they found them empty except for one that contained a note written in Czech that said: "This is all we can do for you now."  It appears that the assembly-line worker disarmed the bombs, left many of them empty, and was able to get a note into at least one of them. (Lucado, 115)

2--Operation Little Vittles was begun by another pilot in World War II, Gail Halvorsen.  It started when he handed gum to some children through a fence.  He began to drop gum to the kids and then gum and candy tied to handkerchief parachutes.  He told the children they would know it was him because he would wiggle his wings.  This earned him the nickname "Uncle Wiggly Wings". (Lucado, 111-112) [There has been a book written about this by Halvorsen himself: The Berlin Candy Bomber (2002)]

Both of these examples show a person doing what was in their sphere of influence to do.  What about me?  What about you?  What is in our sphere of influence to do?  What do we have at our disposal?  What small deed might we do for someone else?

Will what I do create a ripple effect of small deeds being done one to another?  I don't know.  I don't have control over that. All that I know is that I must do whatever it is I can do.

There are times when I can let someone go in front of me, whether in a line of traffic or in a line in the grocery store.  There are times when I can make a phone call, send a note or a card (or an e-mail).  There are times when I can go sit in at the radio station and learn to answer prayer line phones.  There are times when I can help the Spanish-speaking family understand what the recorded message said.  These are a few things that come to mind for me.  I'm sure there are many other small deeds that I can do, if I'll only pay better attention.

I'm going to look for the small deed opportunities and do them.

What about you?

Happy journeying!


PS-- In preparing to teach the Lucado chapter in the absence of the teacher, I found some other resources I'd like to add to my blog. 

First, a website:

Second, a quote from a Spanish musician:

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
                                                                    ~Pablo Casals (1876--1973)

If you need resources to get you started on WHAT you can do, check out the website.  In addition, there are some books available with great ideas.  There are even websites and books geared toward kids to get kids into action. 

Maybe you'll check out the website and post the acts/deeds of kindness that you do or that you observe.  Maybe you'll post them here on the comments.  Regardless, I hope you'll be motivated with some new ideas!


Saturday, December 11, 2010

A long awaited accomplishment.


I started taekwondo one January several years back.   Master Hall offered a free month's training to parents or grandparents of current students.  I had been wanting to take classes and this was the perfect opportunity.

My daughter had started in the Cubs (affectionately known as "Cubby" or "Cubbies") program when she was about 4 years old.   I watched her learn and grow in her martial arts skills through the years.  When she started sparring, I would suggest things to her.  That is, until I reached green belt and learned it isn't so easy keeping all that together physically and mentally.

Last December I was at Senior Brown level and tested for the Red belt.  I earned it.

Somewhere along the way, I had started having lung issues when I sparred, especially at testing.  However, multitudes of tests showed that on paper, my lungs are fine.   I had also developed some shoulder issues, but I had kept on keeping on.  For that last testing, I plastered on about 3 icy hot pads to minimize pain.  That turned out to be my last testing for a while.

Doctor visits and x-rays showed inflammation in the shoulders, adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulders).  I stopped taekwondo and went into physical therapy for 10 months.  Herniated discs in the neck popped up at some point and those were treated to relieve pain. 

Though my shoulders are still "frozen" and I don't have full movement, I have gone back into taekwondo rather than have surgery on both shoulders.  I am limited in what I can do, but I can still do quite a bit.  One major limitation is sparring, however, as that would cause major damage if my arm were to get caught and jerked.  A new system (E-CAS [Elite Counter-Agression Skills]) in the ITA is coming at a perfect time for me.

Today, I was able to test for the senior red belt.  As it was the late testing day, my daughter and I tested together for the first time.  It was a special experience for me to be back at testing, to be able to do my form (albeit not as perfectly as I would like), and to test along with my daughter (who tested for 2nd degree level 3).

Waiting.  It's a part of my journey in many aspects of my life.  In the past few weeks, I have been able to come out of the taekwondo waiting cocoon and have been able to spread my wings once again.  They have strengthened.  I wasn't sure I would be able to learn my form in the time I had, about 6 weeks.   But, with the help of the instructors, a student manual loaned to me by a friend, some extra time and perseverance, today happened. 

Now I can focus on longer stances, better stances, better set ups, etc.  More time to strengthen those wings. 

The next testing will be for the probationary black belt.  But it's not about the ranks.  It's about the journey. 

My journey in taekwondo is as much a part of who I am as is my spiritual journey and my journeys with relationships.  There are times of waiting in each of these as well.

Right now in my spiritual journey, I'm in a time of waiting.  You might be too.  If you're looking toward Christmas and looking toward the arrival, the coming of Christ, then you're in a waiting period, a season of Advent. 

I was challenged this past week: Where is God in my Advent season?  And, I realized that in the chaos of it all, I wasn't spending quiet time in anticipation or preparation.  So, I've taken some time to PAUSE, to STOP, so I can spend some time waiting.  Waiting in expectation. 

Where are you experiencing "waits" in your journey?  How are you preparing for the arrival of Christ? 

May your waiting moments for the Christ child be blessed and filled with joy and adoration. 

May the waiting periods in your life strengthen you.


Psalm 33: 20-22 (NIV)
We wait in hope for the LORD;
   he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
   for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
   even as we put our hope in you.

PS-- If you'd like to read a book that deals with "waiting", I highly recommend Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions, HarperOne: 1990.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dry spells.

Dry spells.  Droughts.  Whatever you want to call them. 

If we're talking about weather, we mean that we're not getting any precipitation, primarily rain.  And that means that the earth is dry, there is dust in the air, the plants need watering (though they are relying on their root system).

If we're talking about writing, we mean that there isn't anything coming down the creative pipes.  The thoughts aren't flowing.  Or, if they're flowing, they're not making it coherently to any written form. 

If we're talking about spiritual life, we mean those times when there seems to be nothing happening of significance, possibly no growth or no outward signs at least.  The times in which we may feel distant from our relationship with God and/or others in the body of Christ.

We could mention other areas of life...  dry spells are a part of the normal cycle of life.  Without them, we wouldn't appreciate the "rains"-- the refreshing, flowing, life-giving, sustenance-- when they come.

How do we survive dry spells?  Like the trees and plants.  Our root systems.  If our roots are deep enough and strong enough, they will sustain us.  We will bring in nourishment through them.   Some root systems grow closer to the top and connect to one another.  This is a great example of community.

Whether you are experiencing a dry spell physically, vocationally, emotionally, or spiritually-- know that the rain will come.

Meanwhile, may your roots continue to drink deeply of the waters that flow underneath and may you be supported by the roots surrounding you.

Know that dry spells are normal on the journey. 


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Are You My Mother?

What do you think of when you read that title?  You may be thinking that I'm off my calendar because Mother's Day isn't until May.  Well, what got me thinking was actually the P.D. Eastman book, Are You My Mother?  Do you know it?  Maybe you remember it from grade school or from reading it to your kids?  I have a bilingual (Spanish/English) copy that I used in teaching. 
I loved the book when I was growing up.  First, the little bird is adorable.  Also, I found it interesting that the little bird was so adventurous.  I don't know if I would have stepped out of the comforts of my nest to go look for my mother, had I been that little bird.  But, it did.  Of course, being a little bird, it thought it would be able to fly.  It got a shock as it fell down to earth that first step.  Instead of thinking too hard and long about not being able to fly, the little bird realized it could walk and set out to find its mother. 

Since the little bird didn't know what his mother looked liked, he walked past her once.  Throughout the book, the little bird asks one character after another "are you my mother?"  At first, he is fairly calm through the process, but then he begins to panic when he cannot find her.  He even follows an airplane, thinking that might be his mother.  In desperation, he gets up on a "big thing" that he thinks is his mother.  Then it "snorts" and begins to move.  Here is when the little bird really panics and realizes he needs to get out of there.  But, he cannot fly and the machine has lifted him off the ground.   The machine deposited the baby bird back into its nest.  Soon after, the mother returned to the nest with food and asked the baby bird if it knew who she was.  By that point, the baby bird knew, without a doubt, who she was.  He went through the list of who she wasn't and then declared, "You are a bird, and you are my mother."

What a great book!!  If you haven't read it, I encourage you to read it!  Sorry for the ending spoiler.  Hopefully it won't really ruin it for you.  If the book is too juvenile for you, find a child to whom you can read it.

Why in the world did this book come to mind the other day?  First of all, random things tend to pop in my mind.  Sidenote--Several years ago, a friend, who is now in camel land, got me into the world of random thoughts.  Random thoughts are often not as random as they seem. 

As I was thinking about this book and the little bird, I was thinking about the adventure this bird experienced.  As I have just now re-read the book, I see all sorts of life analogies.

Sometimes we think we can do things that we're not quite prepared to do.  Like the little bird who knew it should be able to fly, we step out of the nest only to fall to the ground.  Our reaction is important.  Will we, like the bird, realize that we can walk and get up and go?  Or will we sit there and cry and focus on the fact that we cannot fly?

The little bird had no idea what his mother looked like, but he knew he had a mother.  He knew he was created.  So, he goes around asking everyone and everything "are you my mother?"  The little bird is tenacious and doesn't give up easily.  He is bold and courageous.   I realize that he didn't run into the big, bad wolf-- but that's another story.  He was kept from serious harm in this story.  I think of Psalm 139 and how we are created and woven together by God.  I think of how we spend time in our life searching for our creator.

The little bird starts to panic when he cannot find his mother.  He knows she exists somewhere, but cannot find her.  He knows who his mother is when she comes because he has already learned that the others are not his mother.  The little bird went through a thorough search to find his mother and was able to declare with certainty that he knew this was his mother. 

What about you?  Are you still searching?  Or have you found your Creator? Genesis 1:27 tells us that "God created mankind in his own image".   We were created for fellowship.  Fellowship with God, fellowship with one another.  Prayer is a way for us to grow our relationship with God.  Spending time with one another in community in a variety of ways helps us grow our relationships with one another.

One way to grow both relationships is table fellowship.  Gathering around a table and sharing a meal.  Whether it's for a holiday, for a family get together, or just because, table fellowship allows us to not only gather, but to talk and to share.  As we share a meal, we share our hearts and our lives. 

Maybe you're gathering with family and/or friends this week.  If you're in the United States of America (to distinguish from the United States of Mexico or Canada), you might be celebrating Thanksgiving.  As you gather and share food and fellowship, may your relationships be strengthened, with your Creator and with one another.

I am gathering with family this week.  Not only is it going to be a Thanksgiving celebration, but my Mom celebrates one of those "big" birthdays that end in a zero.  For me, it is a time to celebrate my thankfulness for many things in life, including my mom's life.  (I wouldn't be here without her.  Plus, she's walked with me through some tough times in my adult life.)

As you think about the little bird (not the turkey) and about table fellowship opportunities, what things have come to mind?  Any challenges?  Any affirmations?  Any action steps needed?  Share these things with someone who is on the journey with you.  Share them in a comment here.

Blessings on your journey! 

May you travel like the little bird, knowing that your Creator is out there, waiting for you to return home!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Taking a leap of faith.

When I worked as a camp counselor, one of my jobs was working the Ropes Course.  That was FUN!  (I loved archery as well, but there was just something about being in those trees.) 

My last summer as a counselor, I was at a new camp for me, Saddle Rock, in Mentone, AL.   I had missed the previous summer due to a study abroad in Spain.  Prior to that, I had been at the other camp, Camp Skyline.  The kids weren't there yet and we were doing leadership training and bonding (though I didn't know that's what it was called back then) on the ropes course.  We were at the trapeze.   It has been 25 years since then, but I remember it well.  (Speaking of camp and 25 years ago.... I was recently able to visit with Marianne Harvey from camping days.... That was neat.  You should have seen the look on our faces when we both realized it had been 25 years since we had last seen each other.)

It was my turn.  I was standing on the tiny block of wood up in the treetop.  How high?  I don't know exactly.  I would guess it might have been 40 feet up to 60 feet.  I was on belay.  That means that if I fell, someone below had me secured and would lower me down safely.  The trapeze was dangling out in the air beyond reach.  How far out was it?  I don't know.  Far enough to have to jump.  Because the wooden platform on which I stood was right against the tree, there was no such thing as "taking a running jump".  I just had to jump with all my might, from right where I was.  How does it sound so far to you?  I'm not a gutless person.  I had already been doing and teaching ropes courses for several years.  I had rappelled down cliffs, regular and australian-style.  I had done the trust dives and trust falls.  Plus, I was known for doing wacky, goofy things.  (I'm sure that will come as a shock to some!)

So, there I was on that tiny wooden platform, no wider really than the width of my two feet side by side.  My fellow counselors and camp director on the ground and in the trees encouraging me to jump.  Me, with my chicken legs a shaking, taking deep breaths and trying to talk myself into it.  I don't know how long I was up there.  It seemed like forever.  I kept reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen was that I would miss the mark.  And, if I missed the mark, I was on belay and would be safely lowered to the ground.  So, what was the big deal!?!?  Fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not making it.  Fear of messing up.  Fear of moving.  Fear that maybe, just maybe, that person didn't really have me safely on belay.

I finally jumped.  I don't know where the strength came from.  But I used all the strength I had in my legs and reached out my hands in faith.  The next thing I knew, I was touching metal.  I had made it.  I was holding on to the trapeze!  YIPPEE!!


What leaps of faith have you taken in your life? 

They are risky, aren't they?  But, they are worth the risk!

I'm taking another leap of faith, another risk, another step into a possible adventure. 

While on the 5 Day Academy in October, they talked about an upcoming bilingual 2 Year Academy.  The 2 Year Academy meets throughout the 2 years for 5 days at a time.  The word "bilingual" took my breath, literally.  When I heard the word, a gasp snuck out of me.  I don't know why that happened, but it did.  It was like I was a balloon and just got popped.  There are many barriers to me doing something like this, but it won't go away.  But, I've already applied for my M.Div.-- true.  At first, I thought that things might be an either/or situation.  Now, I'm not so sure.  All that I know is that I am going to take each step as I see it, or as I perceive it.  It's not always a "visible" step. 

Who knows how this leap of faith will turn out?!?!  I hope I'll be holding onto the trapeze when it's all said and done.  We'll see.  Meanwhile, I know that I'm on belay and that I will be lowered safely to the ground.

What is your next leap of faith?

Enjoy and make the most out of the journey!!  It is truly an adventure!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lectio divina....spiritual reading.

Lectio divina is the Latin term for "spiritual reading", "divine reading", "holy reading".  Lectio divina is a spiritual practice that will help one slow things down and focus, contemplate, reflect.  It is a way of prayer.

Lectio divina works like this:  you take a passage and read it slowly, paying attention to the words and phrases that stick out to you at the time.  Re-read the passage another time or two, allowing the passage to speak to you.   Spend some time reflecting on what you've gotten from the passage. 

WARNING!  This type of reading is habit forming!  I have read in places that anything can become spiritual reading when read intentionally in this way.  I would agree, from experience.  Though I read Scripture in this method, I also read books in this way.  Not all the time, mind you...... But, it has become a default, underlying current, style of reading. 

I will explain.  You may have noticed.   There are at least two blog entries in which I've quoted a passage from an author and then I've gone back and shared the words that stood out to me.  Then, I've reflected on those words.  That's lectio divina, spiritual reading. 

I realized yesterday (with the help of an "intervention" by some friends) that I am in constant "think-mode" when I read.  Even when I read fiction.  Seriously.  If it's my copy of the book, I'm known to take notes and underline.  If it's not, watch out for lots of yellow sticky notes or brightly colored sticky flags.   I think part of my "problem" is that I have developed the practice of reading in the style of lectio divina.  The other side of that coin is that I rarely choose non-thinking material to read. 

Have you tried lectio divina as a way to change up your study time?  I encourage you to try it.  I realize that my amateur explanations of this spiritual practice may not be enough for you to get into the practice, so I am going to include some additional resources for you.

A book I've mentioned before, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives For Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton, has a chapter on lectio divina, Chapter 3: "Encountering God Through Lectio Divina".

Another book I've mentioned before, Soulfeast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie Thompson, also has a chapter, Chapter 2: "Chewing the Bread of the Word: The Nature and Practice of Spiritual Reading".

Weavings has an online guide "On Spiritual Reading" you can print out.  It is intended to be used with the Weavings articles, but gives a good overview of spiritual reading as well. (Click on "Reading Groups" and then scroll down and find "On Spiritual Reading".  Click and read and/or print.)

Here is a link to the Upper Room:  Here you can read a little about lectio divina and then try it.  Just follow the instructions for the next steps.

This is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg on the topic.  If this is new to you, maybe you can post what you read and your reflections...... If this isn't new to you, post your experiences and/or some other resources you've found along the way.

As we continue the journey, I wish you all "happy reading"!  As for me, I'm going to attempt to NOT read something with spiritual reading eyes.  (I've been told that if I do and if I take notes or even reflect on this one, I have to share....)

You might be wondering what I'll be reading..... Sisterchicks in Sombreros by Robin Jones Gunn.  I hope I'll be able to read this like a "normal" person. :)

May there be joy in your journey today!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pottery... and the potter.

I have a thing for pottery.  I admit it.  I like going to pottery shops, seeing potters at work, seeing their work displayed.  I enjoy buying pottery.  I have a flower vase, some candle sticks, an oil lamp, and about a handful of hand-thrown mugs.  My favorite pieces of pottery?  The two chalices and the patten plate. 

Why are these pieces my favorites?  Because I personally know the hands that made these pieces.  They were made by my friend Dawn, for my wedding.  These pieces were used by my spouse and I as we served our friends and family the shared meal of wine (juice) and bread.   These pieces are special because of the hands that made them and because of what they are and how they were created to be used.  The chalices make wonderful wine glasses as well.

I have also met the potter for some of my other pieces that I own, Pitter the Potter.  Though I have only spoken with him in visits to his shop, I feel that I have gotten to know him a little bit. 

All pottery shows the mark of the potter's hand.  The potter leaves his/her mark through a signature, a signature glaze, or an image on the piece of pottery.  A trained eye (not mine) can know a potter by the pottery.

There are those who know much more about these things than I.  For me, it's just an adoration of beauty that draws me near.  As well as a glimpse into who the potter is by seeing an example of his/her work.

My friend Dawn named her pottery shop "Adamah".  Learn more about it here:

Pitter the Potter can be found in Maggie Valley, NC:  5858 Soco Rd, Maggie Valley, NC 28751,  828-926-7676  828-926-7676 .

So, is there a point to all this talk about pottery and potters?   Yes.   There is.  In fact, there are probably several points. 

First, the potter leaves his/her mark on the pottery, the creation.  Each piece is uniquely made.  Second, knowing the potter brings relationship into the scene and therefore adds a personal element of meaning.

We're still talking about pottery and potters, right?!?!  Well, sort of. 

Here is a verse that compares God to being the potter and us to being the clay.

Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)--"Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."

Great analogy.  God molds us and puts his mark on us.  We are uniquely made for a purpose.  We can have relationship with the potter.  The clay in relationship with the potter.  For me, the potter has to take this lumpy thing of clay and shape and reshape quite a bit.  Then, there are times when I know there are cracks in my personal pottery, but the potter doesn't seem too disturbed.  These, too, are somehow used for growth and good along the journey.

Thanks for joining me in thinking about pottery today.  Have you been inspired to go find a master potter at work and watch?  Or, browse a collection of the finished product?  Stay within your budget (don't blame me if you get carried away....).

Thank you to my friend Dawn for using her gifts and talents and sharing them with the world!  And to Pitter the Potter, you are a joy to know!  Blessings on each of you and your creative adventures!

And, to all that are journeying..... may our clay continue to be moist enough to be molded by the Potter's hands.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Struggling.... does it have a purpose?

Struggles, struggling...... Have you ever wondered if there is anything worthwhile in the process of struggling?  Maybe I should back up and ask, 'Have you ever struggled?'  I didn't really think I needed to ask the second question.  I'm guessing that most folks will answer 'yes' if not YES. 

So, what good are struggles?  (uh, oh... did I just say "good" in the same arena as "struggles"?)  Gulp, am I in trouble?  :)  I'm going to venture out on the edge of the trail here and say that I believe that struggles are good for us and that we can benefit from them.  I say 'can' because I believe it depends on our focus, our attitude, what we do with them.....

First of all, why am I even thinking about "struggles"?   Because they are a normal, natural part of life.  Everybody has them.  But, what caused my brain to click?

I just finished reading a book.  (Does that surprise you?)  The Unlikely Disciple:  A Sinner's Semester At America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose.  It was very insightful and interesting.  I learned quite a bit in reading it and recommend it. Kevin Roose openly and honestly shares his journey through this semester "abroad" experience.

Here's what got me thinking about "struggling".  Kevin is at the end of his semester and is talking with his campus mentor, Pastor Seth, about his belief in God.  Kevin's answer to where he was in his belief with God was this: "I'm struggling.  I don't know where I am.  I wish I did, but I don't." (284)  They continue their dialogue and Pastor Seth explains: "Listen, you're in a period of transition.  You're still struggling to find your spiritual identity, and there's no shame in that.  God doesn't make everything clear for us right away.  We have to engage our faith, wrestle with it, make it ours.  Otherwise, it's dead." (284)

Refreshing words!  From both..... it's refreshing for folks to say that they are struggling.  And, it's refreshing to hear from a spiritual advisor that there is no shame in struggling, in wrestling-- because there isn't.  Didn't Jacob wrestle with God? 

There is quite a bit in this selection that I like:  "period of transition", "struggling to find your spiritual identity", "no shame", "engage our faith", "wrestle with it", "Otherwise, it's dead." 

As I read this passage (and re-read it), I thought about the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly. 

The caterpillar has to go through a time of transition in the chrysalis before it can become a butterfly.  (I'm keeping this simple.  I'm not a scientist. There are great details available even in children's books.  Check them out!) 

When the butterfly is ready to come out of the chrysalis, it must struggle to get out.  If someone cuts open the cocoon to "help" it, its wings won't become strong enough to fly and the butterfly will die.  So, therefore, the butterfly needs to struggle in order to become stronger, in order to live.  Wow!!

There is another nature example about a baby bird pecking its way out of its shell, but it's very similar in the outcome.

Struggle is GOOD for us.  It causes us to grow.  That doesn't mean that we enjoy it, have a good time, etc.  It simply means that we understand that there is a purpose to it-- our maturity, our growth.  Whether it is emotional, physical, psychological, mental or spiritual struggles.... there is potential for growth and maturity.

I say 'potential' because we can come through a time of struggle and not grow, not learn.  It depends on our actions, our responses and our reactions.  But, hopefully we are not trying to make this journey alone.  So when we are in times of struggles, our companions on the journey are there to encourage us, to walk with us, etc.  They are not there to get us out or to fix it for us, but rather to be our companions along the way. 

How do you see "struggles"?  Do you see them any differently now than before? 

It is my hope that any struggles you encounter along the journey will serve to strengthen and mature you.... and me....

May we wrestle through the struggles knowing that we are becoming more mature and stronger.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weavings | Fortunate Fencing

Weavings Fortunate Fencing

"Fortunate Fencing" by E. Glenn Hinson in the "Fenced In" issue of Weavings.

Being "fenced in".... the "should's" and "should nots", St. Augustine and much more. This article is worth some reflection and "chewing" time. :)

Are there fences in my life, your life that can be seen from a different light now? Do some fences need putting up or mended? Are there others that are no longer needed and can be taken down?


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blind Spots.

Blind Spots.

If you drive a vehicle, you know what a blind spot is.  It is that area in which you cannot see anything.

Here's a driving scenario:

You checked your rear-view mirror and both your side mirrors.  There was nothing behind you nor beside you.  You start to move over into the left lane and HOOONNNNNNKKKKKK!   Oops!!! You jerk your steering wheel back to the right, barely having missed that other vehicle.  What just happened?  Most likely, that vehicle had been there the entire time, but it was in your blind spot.

Does that scenario sound familiar?  Has it ever happened to you?  It has happened to me.  I try to turn my head around and look beyond the blind spot in my car, but that doesn't always work.  Especially now with two herniated discs in my neck and some stiffness.  We need to be careful of blind spots when we are driving.

What about in life?  Do we experience "blind spots" in our lives?  Yes.  This morning during neck traction time, I was reading Radical by David Platt and these words on blind spots struck me:

"We all have blind spots--areas of our lives that need to be uncovered so we can see correctly and adjust our lives accordingly.  But they are hard to identify.  Others can often see them in us, and we rely on friends to point them out.  But the reality is, even then we have a hard time recognizing them.  We don't want to admit they exist...often until it's too late.  We discover them in hindsight, but we struggle to see them in the present." (107)

That's a powerful paragraph.  It is packed with truth.  I'd like to take a few moments and unpack it.

First, "we all have blind spots".  That's easy for him to say.   Can you agree with that statement?  I hope so.  If not, why not?

Next, "they are hard to identify."  Is that true?  YES.  And, that's why community is so important, as Platt points out.  Our friends, those closest to us, can help us see what we cannot.  Think about the car situation for a moment.  If you have other people in the car with you, they can help you look out for other cars and you are less likely to get caught by your blind spot.  It's the same in life.

Even with friends helping us, Platt says "we don't want to admit they exist".  That is also true.  It takes humility and integrity to be willing to look into our blind spots, admit their existence, and then to take steps to correct them, change them.

Who are the people on your journey with you that can help you see the blind spots in your life?  Do you have an open relationship with them in which they can speak truth into your life and you into theirs?

May you and I begin to see more clearly those things that hinder us from walking well on the journey.  May we not only see, but take steps to make the necessary changes so that those areas will no longer hinder our journey.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Search me, God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Radical... what does this really mean?

Radical.  I'm reading the book Radical by David Platt.  I've mentioned it before in one of my blogs.  I typically read it while I'm doing static traction for my herniated discs in my neck.  This means that it is taking me a while to read the book and that I can't take notes easily because that is hard to do.

What does "radical" really mean?  Per the Webster's New World Children's Dictionary, 2nd edition, "radical" as a noun means "a person who favors basic or great changes or reforms."  Change..... transformation.

Jesus has been described as a radical.  Jesus wasn't afraid to push the envelope of teaching, of learning, of growth.  He did it every single time he said, "You have heard that it was said...But I say to you..."  (See Matthew 5:21--46, but read the entire chapter for context.)  What is Jesus doing each time?  He is expanding his teaching, his way.  The old way no longer works.  Jesus has a new way of looking at things and it is radical.  It requires change.  It requires humility, love, perseverance, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation.  Yet, at the same time, Jesus is offering something new:  freedom!  Freedom from laws and rules that left one feeling that they had only "done their duty". 

Freedom is radical!

We are cautioned to not use this freedom for evil (1 Peter 2:16).  Our freedom in Christ must not become a stumbling block to someone else. 

Like every aspect of the journey, freedom has its bumps and bruises.  It's a journey in itself to learn and grow in the freedom of Christ. 

Knowing Christ and knowing who we are in Christ are crucial components of our freedom.  We must know who we are and whose we are.  As we become confident in that, we are better prepared to reach out to others, to share freedom with them, to love them as Christ has asked us to in Matthew 5.

Neil Anderson has some great resources on freedom in Christ!  Here is a link to his Freedom in Christ Ministries website:  There is a poster that expresses "Who I Am In Christ".  Check it out:  (The print is available for order in their online bookstore.)

Where are you on the journey in relationship to knowing who you are and whose you are?  Where are you on the journey in relationship to freedom in Christ? 

What changes need to happen so that you and I are living more like Christ? 

May there be joy along the journey!


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Taking Risks...

Our recent Sunday School lesson was about taking risks, taking big risks for God, for kingdom work.  We are studying the Max Lucado book I mentioned a few blogs back: Cure for the Common Life:  Living in Your Sweet Spot.   Chapter 6 of the book is titled "Take Big Risks For God".

What does it mean to "take big risks for God"?  How does one live this out?  As I look at the two questions I just wrote, I am wondering 'Which of those two questions makes me more uncomfortable?'  You know, I might could sit for hours reading and/or talking about what taking big risks for God means-- and feel good about it!  But, to actually take a big risk or several big risks....uh, well, I don't want to throw my camel friend under the bus, but hey-- isn't SHE the one that God has called to live a life of big risks?!?!?!  The answer is YES.  God has called and equipped her.  The answer is also NO.  God has called and equipped each of us.... you and me included. 

Okay, so is this new to me?  Not really.  Have I taken risks before?  Hmm.... I think it would be more interesting for my "mirrors" in my life to answer that one.  But, yes, I do think I have taken risks.  Not just personal risks, but risks for God.

So, why does this bother me now?  Most likely because God doesn't allow us to rest on our laurels, so to speak.  God doesn't allow us to become comfortable where we are.  God continues to draw us deeper and deeper into an intimate relationship.  And that relationship requires risk.

Lucado uses the Message version of 2 Timothy 1:7 to open this chapter: "God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible."  Hmm.... we are to be bold and loving and sensible with the gifts God has given us.

These words in the chapter spoke to me: "For fear of making the wrong kingdom decision, you'll make no kingdom decision.  For fear of messing up, you'll miss out." (60) 

Has fear ever kept you from making a decision?  It has me.  Many a time.  At least for a while.  Until I've recognized it (or someone has pointed it out) and I've been able to get over it or through it or by it.  Is fear keeping you from making a kingdom decision now?

Later, Lucado encourages the reader: "Go out on a limb, he won't let you fall.  Take a big risk, he won't let you fail.  He invites you to dream of the day you feel his hand on your shoulder and his eyes on your face. "Well done," he will say, "good and faithful servant."" (60)

What does "taking a big risk" mean for you today?  What does it mean for me?

I'll share one thing it means to me.  It means re-applying for seminary as a M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary.   I took the risk of applying.  Now to find two references and pay the application fee.  I feel as though I have taken a step off of Lookout Mountain.  Have I missed the hiking trail?  I don't think so.  I'm either "on belay" and rappelling down, Australian style (face first instead of feet first)! or I'm safely harnessed in with a licensed instructor in a hang glider.  We'll see what happens.  I'll let you know.

How about you? 


PS-- I have rappelled, though it has been years.  I would love to do it again.  I have wanted to hang glide since my 35th birthday, but haven't gotten around to it.  A friend once gave me a "round tuit".  Maybe I'll be able to take that and apply it to an adventure in the air!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Ripple Effect...

Ripples in the water...  Did you ever throw rocks in the water to watch the ripples?  Or even skip rocks to see how far they would go and watch the ripples from each place they touched down?   The ripples in the picture below didn't come from a rock being thrown in, but rather from within the water.  I'm guessing from a fish or some other form of aquatic life.  The initial source isn't the focus, however, but rather the ripples.

Garner Creek, Dickson, TN

One little movement in the water can produce a powerful ripple effect.  It has potential to keep on going, until it encounters an obstacle.  Even then, the ripple can make its way around or over the obstacle.

What about in life?  What are ripple effects outside of water?  What are the things that produce ripple effects? 

Ripple effects..... the consequences, intended or unintended, of an action.  They can be the outcomes of taking risks, of saying "yes" or saying "no", etc.  Our actions don't simply stay with us, they have a ripple effect.  So, the question becomes, 'Are my actions producing positive or negative ripple effects?'  And, since my desire is to be an effective Kingdom dweller, the question becomes, 'Are my actions producing positive or negative ripple effects in the Kingdom?'

We don't always see or know the consequences.  However, if we make our decisions with discernment and take our steps of action with wisdom and prayer, then more than likely we are causing positive ripple effects.

We all have those days, however.  You know, the days that reveal less of the Christ in us than we would desire.  For those days, for those ripple effects, remember there is forgiveness.   When we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins.  (Don't believe me, check it out for yourself-- 1 John 1:9.) 

So, next time you're by some water, throw in a rock and watch the ripples or stand long enough to watch the aquatic life create their own ripples.  Ask God to show you what risks you might take in the Kingdom in order to create some ripples.  Or, ask God in what areas you might need to say "yes" to or "no" to in order to create some ripples. 

Creating ripples is fun.   It is part of the adventure.  Part of the journey.

May the ripples you and I create strengthen and bring life into the Kingdom!


Thursday, October 28, 2010


During the recent 5 Day Academy that I attended, one of Marjorie Thompson's sessions focused on "Forgiveness" as a pathway to spiritual formation. 

You may ask, 'what does forgiveness have to do with spiritual growth and journey?'  From my own personal experience, I can say EVERYTHING!  Forgiveness granted to me and/or forgiveness flowing from me has opened up the clogged plumbing pipelines, so to speak.  The forgiveness cleared out all the gunk and gook and allowed the cleansing of the Holy Spirit to flow freely.

If you will, think of those cleansing bubbles for a moment as agents of forgiveness scrubbing all the resentment, hurt, and bitterness away.  What's left is a sparkling clean shine.

Granted, it isn't all that simple, but maybe the analogy helps a little.  There is freedom that flows from forgiveness!

How do I know that?  How can I make such a statement?  'There is freedom that flows from forgiveness!'  You may be asking, 'Really?'  Yes, really! 

God has been teaching me more and more about forgiveness.  Along with the lessons on forgiveness have been lessons on grace and mercy for truly I have received more love than due me and spared/saved from destruction many a time.

I have had opportunities to forgive others in my life.  Things that have happened, often without the other person knowing they had transgressed me in any way.  By forgiving, I set both myself and them free. 

I know I have done wrong to others, whether by omission or commission.  And, I'm sure there have been some that have forgiven me.  And, there are some who may not have yet forgiven me.  It is my heart's desire to make things right as much as possible with all people.

Next to God's forgiveness in my life, the biggest example I have of forgiveness is someone to whom I am eternally grateful.  She extended the branch of forgiveness to me when she could have taken the opportunity to hold a grudge or much, much more.  This act of forgiveness gave freedom and healing to us both.  It has been a blessing beyond words and has allowed a relationship to grow.  In truth, I believe that it not only has allowed my relationship with her to grow, but it has allowed me to grow spiritually. 

Choosing to forgive is just that, it is a choice.  A choice that frees us from the bitterness, pain, hurt, and resentment while freeing the other person from condemnation.

Marjorie Thompson put it this way: "To forgive is to participate in the mystery of God's love."  (during the presentation at the 5 day academy, 10/20/10)

There is so much more to say about forgiveness.  About how forgiveness is NOT forgetting, how forgiveness is a process of healing, about accepting forgiveness and forgiving ourselves so that we can forgive others.

I encourage you to search out God's Word on forgiveness.  Here are three Scriptures that mention the topic.  See what else you find.  Look it up in other versions.  Check out an online source such as  or or  You can read the verses in different versions and/or search for the term "forgiveness", depending on the site.  There are also other resources at each location.

Matthew 6:14-16 (NIV)
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
We also forgive so that our prayers will not be hindered:

Mark 11:25 (NIV)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
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I encourage you to check out the additional resources that Marjorie Thompson shared with us.  I've listed them at the bottom of the blog for this entry.

I encourage you to reflect on the topic of forgiveness and how it strikes you today.  What are your experiences with forgiveness or unforgiveness?  What action steps do you need to take toward having a healthier relationship with God, yourself, and others through the spiritual pathway of forgiveness?

Just like those scrubbing bubbles, it does take work.  The scrubbing bubbles work very hard to clean out the gunk, grime, and gook.  They have cleansing power.   How's your forgiveness muscle?  Does it need some work?

As you go through the journey of forgiveness, I promise you this:  Shedding resentment births freedom!  May you live into the freedom!


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Some additional resources on "forgiveness" from Marjorie Thompson:
Why Forgive? Johann Christoph
Forgiveness: The Passionate Journey, Flora Wuellner
Weavings Journal "Forgiveness"
Forgiving Your Family: A Journey to Healing, Kathleen Fisher
Forgiven and Forgiving, William Countryman