Monday, January 31, 2011

Comic strips and children's books...

I enjoy reading comic strips, comics, the funnies... whatever you call them.  I also enjoy reading children's books.  Why?  For one, sheer pleasure!  There is joy and laughter and fun.  Another reason?  For education.  That's right.  I learn from them.  I have learned many of life's lessons through the black and white or colored frames of comic strips as well as through characters in children's books.

When I find a comic strip that "speaks to me", I normally tear it out and save it for future reference.  Or, I may pass it along to someone if it speaks to me in that way.   What kinds of life lessons do I learn?  If it's "Zits" or "Baby Blues", it's often life situation stuff about family and raising kids.  Sometimes it makes me laugh or shake my head in wonder or disbelief.  Other examples from which I learn include: "Dennis the Menace", "Mother Goose & Grimm", "Mutts", "Snuffy Smith", "Wizard of Id", "Garfield", "Hi & Lois", "Frank & Ernest", etc.  Truly, if we're open to learning from all of life, we will.

Beyond life lessons, I'll take a moment to plug using comics for language learning.  When I was studying French as my 3rd language, my professor (Jean-Paul Carton) loaned me stacks of «Boule et Bill» to read.  Those were great vocabulary boosters!  That started me in collecting children's books and comics in Spanish and French to loan to my students when I taught.

Children's books.... one that I've used extensively over the years (used as devotions, for children's messages, used in a sermon, used it in the classroom to teach Spanish [«El conejito andarín»], handed out copies to folks in both Spanish and English) is «The Runaway Bunny» by Margaret Wise Brown.  This is a great book, illustrated by Clement Hurd.  Per the book it is appropriate for newborn to age 6.  I think it's appropriate for all ages.  On the back of the book is this statement: "Celebrating a mother's steadfast love for her little bunny." 

I first heard of this book from Evelyn Laycock in the 1980's through an Advanced Lay Speaking Course I took one summer at Hiwassee College.  She used the story of the bunny and its mother and knitted it together with Psalm 139.   Steadfast love.  Deep love.  Both passages speak of this kind of love.

I haven't been the same since.  Psalm 139 has become an important part of the faith fabric in my journey.  And so has «The Runaway Bunny».  

The most recent time I've used «The Runaway Bunny» was last year, Valentine's Day.  I was blessed to share the Sunday message that afternoon with some residents at a local care facility.  We sang hymns together, we shared the message from the Word, we shared the children's story, and we shared communion.  I left them with hand-crafted origami flowers a friend had made for each of them and a red cut-out paper heart I had made with a message based on Psalm 139: "I love you because I created you.  I knit you together in your mother's womb.  You are mine forever.  You are beautiful to me.  Love, God."

I know I'm simple minded to enjoy the teachings I receive from comic strips and children's books, and that's okay with me.   Sometimes it's the simple things that truly help me clarify my relationships, with God and others.  They allow me to slow down, to focus, to rid my brain of the whirlwinds of thoughts.

I would encourage you to take some time along your journey to enjoy the comics, to read some children's books.  You don't have to look for life lessons, just enjoy them!  But, if the life lessons come across, pay attention to them.  They just might change your life.

May you realize that no matter where you are on your journey or where you go on your journey, you are loved!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I'm a toys-r-us kid...

Do you remember the commercial for Toys-R-Us with the kid (or kids) singing "I don't wanna grow up, I'm a toys-r-us kid"?  That jingle has stuck in head ever since I first heard it.  I can't quite picture the kid singing it, especially since several different kids did the commercial, and maybe some adults too.  I could probably search for it on YouTube.

Anyway, I consider myself a "toys-r-us kid".  Not in the sense that I play with lots of toys and hang out at playgrounds, though I still enjoy toys and playgrounds.  (In fact, while on the 5 day academy in October, I took a few moments to enjoy some of the really cool slides and swings they had there!)

When my daughter was several years younger, I would tease her anytime something came up for children to be involved.  I would tell her that I planned to participate as well.  She would tell me I couldn't.  Then, I would remind her that I am a child... and she would interrupt me, letting me know that a child of God didn't count for this particular situation. 

Yes, I admit it.  I am a child.  I am a child of God.

This isn't a new revelation to me or to anyone that knows me.  What is a new revelation to me this morning is something that really shouldn't be, but is.  You know how when you read something that you've known for a LONG time, and something NEW pops out?!?  Well, that is what happened to me this morning as I was reading my bible study lesson for this week (Matthew 6:1-18).  

So, what caught my attention fresh, anew?  That we are taught by Christ to pray as children to "Our Father".  Why did that catch my attention?  I don't really know.  I know of the Scriptures throughout that talk about us coming into the kingdom as a child.  [Matthew 18:3-4, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17]

Yet, even though I've prayed it [Lord's Prayer/Jesus' Prayer] for YEARS, I don't think I've ever intentionally recognized that I'm praying as a child of God to Father.  What in the world have I been thinking then?!?  That I was just some person praying to God.  Just one more relationship connection for me in the puzzle.  And not just to God, but to the entire community of believers.  I think that slips by me sometimes as well, that this prayer unites all believers as we pray "Our...".  That's important to remember as well.  We come together as children of God.

Children of God.  Child-likeness, not child-ishness.  There is a difference.  And there are Scriptures that refer to believers that are still drinking spiritual milk instead of chewing on solid food.  We are to be intentional in our journey to grow and mature in our faith, yet not transfer our dependence from God to ourselves as we grow.  This isn't easy.  At least not until we face trials, hardships, struggles, etc.

When I think of myself as a child of God, I think of a song by Twila Paris: "The Warrior is a Child".  As we grow up, sometimes we forget that we are God's children.  No matter how much we grow in the faith, let's remember that we are always children of God. 

Being a child of God, what does it mean?  Beyond entering the kingdom as a child, beyond child-likeness vs. child-ishness behaviors, what does it mean?  Here are some words from Henri Nouwen that might explain it better than I ever could:

"Just for a moment, in your prayer and meditation, try to enter this enormous mystery: that you, like Christ, are God's beloved child.  In you, God is well pleased.  Your belovedness precedes your birth.  It will follow you all the days of your life and beyond death.  You are fully loved of God before your father and mother, brother, sister, family, or church loved you or didn't love you, hurt you or helped you.  You are fully loved because you belong to God for all eternity.  That's the truth of your identity.  That's who you are.  And you can reclaim it at any moment." (Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, HarperOne, 2010, page 110.) 

Here's to living into kingdom life as a child of God!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the blue hole in the sky

On Wednesday, January 19, 2011, I saw a magnificent scene in the sky.  The darkened sky had opened up to reveal a bright blue hole.  It felt like something out of a movie.  It so captured my attention that I had to stop and take a picture with my phone. 

As I was on my way home, as soon as I arrived, I quickly grabbed my camera and was able to get a few shots of the scene before it went away.  What it seemed like was that this magnificent blue hole that had opened up was now closing. 


Being that I sometimes have an overactive, child-like imagination, I wondered what it would have been like to be able to position myself under that blue hole, lift my arms above my head (a feat in itself with frozen shoulders), and zoom up into its vastness.  In order to make this more "real", I see myself as a cartoon character, like one of those on the chocolate commercial where they are all swimming around in chocolate to the lyrics "I'll stop the world and melt with you." (The song is from the 1980s by a band named Modern English.  I remember it being very popular in 1986.)

If you examine the first picture of the blue hole closely, its shape could be a car, sans wheels.  (But then who needs wheels in the clouds anyway?!?)

It was a glorious moment of light in the midst of darkness.  In reality, it allowed me to be in awe of creation and Creator once again.  In creativity and imagination, it allowed me to be a photographer and a kid.

Even without the pictures, I would have enjoyed the moments.  Taking the opportunity to enjoy the moment(s).... there is joy in this!  And, therefore, there is joy on the journey!

This is just an example of one of my moments along my journey. 

What moments bring you joy in your daily journey?

May you be able to stop and enjoy the moments that come across your path.  May they bring you joy.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Do you find/make time for solitude?  That's one of the aspects in my spiritual journey that is an ongoing learning curve.  (Along with "silence".)

Some days, I am able to get enough time away to myself to re-energize, to focus on God, to just be.  Other days, it seems that it just doesn't happen.  Like everything, it's about balance.  Taking advantage of the unexpected winter break due to 8 inches of snow, I was able to enjoy the extra time with my daughter at home.  That was a blessing!  However, being off a normal schedule caused me to not be intentional about making time for solitude.

I can tell when I haven't had enough solitude time.  I get cranky,  frustrated,  short-tempered.   My soul is restless.  The best solution is for me to get out into the woods, but that isn't always possible.  Sometimes I am good about taking advantage of moments when my daughter has gone off to school before I get into the daily routine.  At other times, I have already started cleaning and running around.  It is harder to stop once I have begun, but it is possible. 

Solitude goes hand in hand with silence.  It is intentionally spending time set apart to be able to recharge the batteries of the soul (so to speak), to reflect, to listen, to read, to listen, to pray, to listen, to simply be.

One of my coffee mugs is inscribed with this Scripture: "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10).  It has become one of my breath prayers as well as something I've been trying to live into for the past several years.  I cannot do this unless I am intentional.  When I intentionally take some time to be apart from the busyness of life (even in my own home), I find I can hear God more clearly.  I find that the rhythm of my soul regulates.  I find strength and peace.

Solitude.  Silence.  Stillness. 

I hope to incorporate these more and more into my journey.  I encourage and invite you to do the same.

May you find peace in the stillness of your journey!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

CIA--Community In Action

Snow!  The South got snow!  (And the North, etc.  In fact, on Tuesday of this week, the news reporter said all but one state in the United States had snow somewhere in it. I bet that's a record.)

I love snow!  I love how it falls through the sky.  I love how it blankets the earth.  I love to sled, to make snowballs, to make snowmen, and snow angels.  I love to watch others do the same.

Snow is pure.  It's pristine.  Its whiteness covers all the leaves, the dirt, the roads, everything.  Everything looks fresh, bright, and new.  Cleansed.  This reminds me of two verses in the Scriptures that show we are cleansed whiter than snow:

Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
   says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
   they shall be like wool.

Psalm 51:7 (NIV)

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Whiter than snow.... how can you get much whiter than that?!?!  Being cleansed is a different topic than I started out on, but when I think of snow, I can't help but think of these verses.

Snow covered streets and yards make for fun sledding.  The roads aren't great for travel, however.  And once the slush refreezes, the ice is even more dangerous for driving.  That has been our situation here in the South.  Our area was blessed with 8 inches of snow.  Our neighborhood has several hills. 

On Tuesday afternoon, I observed several neighbors out shovelling the slush in the road.  We live on top of one of the hills.  About 6 people were out there moving the snow and slush to the sides of the roads.  CIA-- community in action.  Folks working together to serve one another and the rest of us.  As snowplows don't come into our area, we either had to wait it out or drive it away.  These folks took the time and the energy for the 3rd option-- to shovel it away.  As I had overdone it Monday helping my husband with our driveway so he could get to work (shovelling is a tad painful for already pained frozen shoulders), I went outside to say "thank you" to my neighbors.  I'm not sure that "thank you" is enough, but it was all I could offer at the moment.  Their sacrifice of time, effort, and energy made it possible for everyone else in the neighborhood to travel safely.  Plus, they demonstrated an excellent example of community in action, of people coming together, working together for a purpose.

I heard about another example of community in action as I listened to our President last night at the Tuscon Memorial Service.  He shared about how two men wrestled down the shooter, how a lady wrestled away the ammunition, how husbands shielded their wives from bullets with their own bodies, etc.  Examples of sacrificing, one for another.  Examples of people in community putting others before themselves, reaching out, going out of their comfort zones, risking their lives, working together. 

It is wonderful to see community in action.  Community is how we are called to live.  However, it seems that these days, it takes something out of the ordinary (like a blustery snow or a senseless shooting) to bring us together into community. 

We have become very private and independent, even in our neighborhoods.  When is the last time you've had a block party or borrowed tools or sugar from a neighbor?

What would it be like to live daily in community?  Intentionally serving one another, reaching out to one another, putting others before ourselves.  Some people do this.  In fact, there are even communities of people living in such a way sharing their finances, their garden tools, their homes, etc. 

Shane Claiborne talks about community in action (among other things) in his book The Irresistible Revolution: living as an ordinary radical (Zondervan: 2006).

This is one thing he says in the book about the community in which he lives:

"We are not even trying to spread a model of community.  We are just trying to discover a new (ancient) kind of Christianity.  We are about spreading a way of life that exists organically and relationally and is marked by such a brilliant love and grace that no one could resist it." (348) 

If you'd like to learn more about the community in which he lives, check out their website:

 Maybe you can't do what Shane is doing.  But, what can you apply to where you are now?  What can I apply?  Do we wait until the next snowstorm or shooting or other out of the ordinary event to reach out to those around us?  Or, can we find a way to start showing love and grace to those around us now?

What would it be like if we were all to live intentionally as communities in action?

May there be joy in your journey!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Diving deeper.

I have never been scuba diving.  I have friends who took some classes, learned the skills, and have done it.  Me?  I've been in some beautiful waters and have even ventured into snorkeling.  Snorkeling allowed me to see all kinds of beautiful fish and corals.  But I've not yet tried scuba diving.  It's not that I don't want to.  I think it would be pretty neat.  To be able to go deeper than the surface.  To explore the depths, to see the unseen.  I think it would be tremendous.  But it would also be scary.  One has to wear big tanks for air, tight rubbery clothing, and learn all kinds of new things in order to do it safely.

Since the summer of 2006, I have been diving deeper in my spiritual life.  I enjoyed simply swimming in the waters.  I enjoyed the beauty surrounding me.  Yet, something called me to the deep.  So, I've been exploring that deep ever since. 

It has definitely been an adventure.  I have seen beautiful things.  But I have also seen scary things in the depths of the darkness.  Some of the scary things have been reflections of myself, others have been other things.  Sometimes it has felt like I've been privileged to see the most wonderful of things.  At other times it has felt like I forgot to put enough oxygen in my tank and I wasn't going to make it.  I have learned.  I have grown.  What have I learned the most?  That I have much to learn and a long way to grow.

My heart's desire is to go deeper still.  I don't know where "deeper" will take me.  I just want to go.  I want to follow the Way (Christ), to serve, to love, to forgive, to offer hospitality, to reach out to the least/the lost/the last, the poor/the hungry/the oppressed... to be in community with others who do as well.   

It may not look pretty from the observation point.  Like my snorkeling attempts.  Even though I was able to see pretty fish and coral below the surface, no telling what my floppy legs looked like as I tried to keep myself underwater.   I'm learning to live into this, learning to be okay in my own skin as I explore and go deeper.

What about you?  Are you ready to put on your spiritual scuba gear and set out for an adventure?


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year! Are You Ready to Begin Anew?


The first day of the new year.  2011.  I intended to write more in 2010.  Though I got a "late" start and didn't start blogging until September, I was able to post 36 times.  Two of those (at least) were links to someone else's thoughts and writings that captured my attention.

I desire to continue writing and reflecting in 2011.  We'll see what happens.  For today, I'm going to post something I wrote for the UTC Wesley Center's Advent and Christmas devotional.  It is actually yesterday's devotion, but as today is the first day of the new year, it is still applicable.   

I look forward to many more steps along this adventurous journey. 

Continued happy journeying to you!

~Debra :)
“Are You Ready to Begin Anew?”
2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
Today is New Year’s Eve.  How are you going to celebrate this year?  Will you be with friends and/or family?  Will you have to work?  Will you stay up late and bring in 2011 with Times Square?  Beyond the short-lived celebration, what about 2011 will be new for you?
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV) we read that “everything old has passed away” and “everything has become new!” Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  Because God reconciled us to himself through Christ, we have the ministry of reconciliation.  As a new creation with a ministry of reconciliation we are ambassadors for Christ. 
Have you thought about yourself as an ambassador for Christ before?  If not, try it on for size for a moment.  Fill in your name in the blank:  I, ________, am an ambassador for Christ.  Remember that an ambassador is a spokesperson, a representative.  Whether this is something new to you or something you’ve been doing for years, think about this: how do you represent Christ to those in your realm of influence?  Or, since tomorrow begins a new year, how will you represent Christ in 2011? 
I don’t really like to make New Year’s Resolutions.  In fact, I don’t make them anymore.  There are several reasons for this.  One, I would make too many of them.  Then, I would start off the year strong on as many of them as possible, but then become worn out trying to keep them all going.  I think I could change my old ways of not making any resolutions and try making one this year.  In 2011 I would like to explore how I can become a more effective ambassador for Christ.  How about you? 
Are you ready to begin anew in 2011?  Accept God’s grace for whatever is coming in the upcoming year.  What are you waiting for?  The time is now!
~Debra Dickerson
Jesus, fill now with Thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water
From our inner self may flow.

[last verse of Channels Only
written by Mary E. Maxwell
music by Ada R. Gibbs, 1900]