Monday, May 30, 2011

Some thoughts on hospitality...

Hospitality.  It's a topic I've been thinking more about over the past several years.  When we started remodeling and expanding our home a few years back, I thought it would be nice to be able to open our home to travelling friends, missionaries, etc.  Even before these thoughts, I've reflected upon and lived hospitality, as both giver and receiver.

The very first time I left my home country was in 1984, to do a summer Study Abroad in Segovia, Spain.  My host family was very hospitable.  They made me feel at home in a new land.  Even though I had studied the language at that point for several years, there were SO MANY words I didn't know.  I felt like a newborn baby all over again.  And, I was quiet.  Yes, I just wrote that.  And, I was.  I listened.  I observed.  It took a while for me to feel at home in this land and culture.  I finally decided it was okay to speak even if I didn't get it all correct.  The host family knew I was becoming more comfortable when my roommate and I started pranking them by short-sheeting them.

Spain wasn't my only time to receive hospitality.  I was a guest in the home of a family when I attended a foreign language conference in Wheaton, Illinois.  I have visited in the homes of family members.  I went back to my parent's home and lived with my infant daughter for a couple of months after I sold my house and was looking for another one to buy.  And, when our home was being remodeled, there was a time when we needed to stay with another family for a couple a days.

A couple of years ago, several of us from church (all staff except me) went to a Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas/Missouri.  At the end of the conference, on the way home, we experienced a bus breakdown.  We were in need of someone's help.  We were near Mexico, I believe.  Calls were made to local United Methodist Churches and someone from one of the churches came to get us.  The connectional system and hospitality at work!  We went to a local hotel and checked in.  Our bus would not be able to be fixed that day.  The person accompanied us to dinner at a local diner.  When you are on the side of the interstate in the middle of nowhere, you begin to understand what vulnerable feels like.  Thankfully, I was with other people and people helped us out!

All these situations (and possibly others that I don't remember at the moment) are examples of hospitality extended to me. 

When I lived on Long Island, we had the opportunity to short-term host a Christian musician that came to sing at our church from Missouri.  Our small, modest one bedroom apartment wasn't much to offer, but we offered it.  When we moved into a two bedroom apartment we had the opportunity to host a friend who needed a place to live for several months.  When we moved to Dayton, TN we opened our home to college students as we were dorm parents.  Our home was also open to hispanics, missionaries, and folks who needed to stay the night.  

Recently, I've been able to live out hospitality through IHN--Interfaith Homeless Network (at one time it was called Interfaith Hospitality Network).  For the first time, our family was able to be hosts during the last rotation at our church.  That was a blessing.  We normally help with dinner at least one night during the week and sit down with the families to dine, getting to know them a little, playing with the kids, talking some, etc.  The night we got to spend the night allowed us a little more time with the families.   It was a blessing.   

For me, showing hospitality has been about having an open home for others.  But not just an open home.  It has meant having an open heart, an open schedule, an open life.  Unfortunately, my life doesn't always allow me to be open... my schedule can get hectic with the responsibities of being a "taxi-driver" mom [meaning that I'm taking my kid to her various activities].  Even so, I still try to allow room in my life, in my schedule to be hospitable.  I am open to giving of my time to the stranger, the alien in my life as well, though I believe I can do better, more.

I've just finished a book on hospitality by Christine Pohl: Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.

This book offers a historical view on hospitality and how it became a lost tradition.  Pohl visited several communities that live out hospitality as part of her research and there is shared insight from them.  Pohl mentions Le Chambon a couple of times in the book.  As I have the video in French and have used it in the past to teach upper level French, I am aware of the story of the town reaching out to and saving many Jewish lives.

Pohl points out that hospitality almost always includes table fellowship, sharing of meals together.  Table fellowship is another aspect of life that has been on my radar for the past several years. 

Many nuggets of truth in this book have made me reflect.  There have also been things that have reminded me of hospitality experiences in my past.  In addition, Pohl's book has challenged me to a higher level of hospitality living, to expand my hospitality. 

Some people will say that they don't have the gifts for hospitality.  That may be true.  However, hospitality is something we can all do.  It isn't only a gift.  It is also a skill.  Pohl writes: "We become proficient in a skill by performing it regularly, and by learning from persons who are masters of it.  Hospitality is a skill and a gift, but it is also a practice which flourishes as multiple skills are developed, as particular commitments and values are nurtured, and as certain settings are cultivated." (9)

Pohl talks about the alien and the stranger throughout the book and how hospitality helps those who are invisible begin a journey toward visibility and respect.  Hospitality can be powerful. 

I've seen hospitality at work through what is now being called Mustard Tree Ministries here in Chattanooga.  What started as a soup and sandwich ministry on Thursdays has grown into other areas of ministry.  I have witnessed the invisible become visible as a small child handed out sandwich bags or just a smile.  I have seen those helped become the helpers. 

The need is great, yes, even overwhelming.  However, it is possible to make a difference.  If each one of us figures out how we are to live out the call of hospitable living in our neighborhoods, our communities and if we combine our efforts with other people, families, or churches, we can help the stranger among us.

Pohl quotes John Wesley's Sermon 98 in which Wesley is reflecting on his observation of how some people don't see suffering: "Many of them do not know, because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it-- and then they plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart." (76)  Would you say "ouch!" or "amen!"?  (Thanks to a pastor friend who brought that up in a sermon, giving us the opportunity to respond with "ouch" or "amen".  Sometimes deafening silence says it all.)

There is more I could write on hospitality..... how it is being revitalized as one of the spiritual practices in the church, individually and corporately.... or that it needs to be.  I have read about the topic of hospitality in other books.  I could include those for further reading and include many more quotes from Pohl.  But, I'll stop for now.

Where are you in your journey concerning hospitality? 

Desiring to be a more hospitable sojourner to all of those along my path,


Monday, May 23, 2011

Be Still... [updated]

How hard is it for you to be still?  It can often be excruciating for me. :)  In my daughter's taekwondo classes, often at the end of class the instructor has them be still.  They are to be still for several minutes.  To help them focus, he tells them to quietly say to themselves something to the effect of "no talking, no moving".  [I can't remember the exact phrase at the moment.] 

Having a short phrase to focus on does help one to focus on "being still".  When I attempt to be still, that's when my brain is attacked by every chore I had forgotten to do.  People, places, things fly through my thoughts.  One of my short phrases (for several years) has been: "Be still and know that I am God".  Psalm 46:10

It is becoming more important for me to make time to quiet my mind and body, to be still, to create space to listen.  I find that when I go several days without this practice, I can tell that I need it.  Not only do I need it mentally, but physically.  Be still.

Be still.

Be still and know.

Be still and know that I am God.

This verse is one that I've been camping out with for several years and don't foresee my graduating from it.  I may add others to my quiet time to change things up, depending on where I am at the moment, but the need and desire to "be still" will always be a part of my journey. 

How are you doing with being still on your journey?  What do you do to help you "be still"?   Besides the short phrase, there are lots of things that one can use for a visual focus-- candle, art, religious icons, cross, etc. 

In your still time, are you able to listen?  That is the goal of becoming still.  To quieten ourselves so that we can hear our Creator speak. 

Sometimes, as with human relationships, there may be no words.  It is enough to be in the presence of the other in silence.

May your journey include times of silence as you become still and know...


PS-- Here is a photo of a mug I bought on a family trip to Little Switzerland, NC in July of 2009.  It is hand-made by Jane Willis, a local potter and substitute teacher. 

UPDATE: (May 25)

I've heard this song before and heard it again this morning on the radio.  It's by Stephen Curtis Chapman--"Be Still and Know".  Sometimes, music helps me be still.  This song ministers to my thirsty soul.
Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

Be still, and know that He is God
Be still, and know that He is God
Be still, and know that He is God

Be still; Be speechless

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still, Be still

Monday, May 16, 2011

In between the lines....

When I'm driving, I try to keep the car in between the lines, don't you?  Here in the United States, that means I typically have yellow lines (of assorted lengths) on the left and white ones on the left. 

My maternal great-grandfather, Big Daddy (Bourbon DeLoach) used to drive by the line of the pine trees in his later years.  But that was in South Georgia where one could do that, sort of. :)

Well, it's not the lines on the road that I'm talking about today.  It's the lines, the dashes, between the two dates that describe our life span.  At this point, I only know the beginning of that time for me-- 1964.

What in the world got me thinking about this?  Truthfully, life and death are things I think about from time to time.  But this time, the cause for my focus happen to be two songs that I heard back to back two weeks ago.  Literally.  One song came on and then the very next song that came on was related to it in theme.  I ended up looking up the radio station on line to get the songs so I could get the lyrics. 

Together, the songs caused me to think about life.  To reflect.  To review.

The songs?  The first one was: "Nothing to Prove" by Phillips, Craig,  & Dean.  Though the song is geared toward remembering a loved one who has passed away, there are many things in the song that caught my attention for living in the here and now.

For example, the chorus:

Saying live with no excuses
Love with no regrets
Laugh a lot and leave this life
With nothing left unsaid
Make this world a better place
Don’t be afraid to cry
And when its finally time, to say goodbye
Nothing to prove, nothing to lose
Nothing to hide
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That's how I want to live.  Sometimes I do live like that-- no excuses, loving with no regrets, laughing lots, making sure I'm saying what I need to say, making this world a better place (I hope), not being afraid to cry...

The next verse caught my attention too:

You see, life cannot be measured by
The place you live, the car you drive
The thing that counts the day you die
Is who you are, and what’s inside
So tell the truth, don’t ever lie
Integrity at any price
Your words, your bond, your highest price
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Integrity has become one of those big things for me.  Even though my integrity was colored gray during a time in my life, or maybe because of that time, my word and who I am has become more and more important.  I seek to live a life of integrity, to do what I say I'm going to do, to become a person of integrity.  I won't always live up to that standard.  I will fail.  But, that is my goal.

The full lyrics to the song "Nothing to Prove":

You taught me how to ride a bike
Tie my shoes and fly a kite
How to swim, and how to fish
To see a star and make a wish
Said its okay to make mistakes
Just don’t get stuck in yesterday
Forgive, forget, and move ahead
Because life is what you make of it
Now You’re gone, and all I have
Are memories I hold deep
But if I’m quiet, I hear your voice
Still ringing in my ears

Saying live with no excuses
Love with no regrets
Laugh a lot and leave this life
With nothing left unsaid
Make this world a better place
Don’t be afraid to cry
And when its finally time, to say goodbye
Nothing to prove, nothing to lose
Nothing to hide

You see, life cannot be measured by
The place you live, the car you drive
The thing that counts the day you die
Is who you are, and what’s inside
So tell the truth, don’t ever lie
Integrity at any price
Your words, your bond, your highest price
So guard it close, and live your life
So many things, I learned from you
Bout? life and love and play,
But I learned more by how you lived
Then what I heard you say

So I live with no excuses
And I love with no regrets
I laugh a lot, and I leave this life
With nothing left unsaid
Make this world a better place
Don’t be afraid to cry
And when its finally time, to say goodbye
And when its finally time, to say goodbye
And when its finally time, to say goodbye
There’s nothing to prove, nothing to lose
Nothing to hide
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The song that immediately followed was: "The Line Between The Two" by Mark Harris (formerly of 4 Him).

The second verse caught my attention:

Will I walk straight, will I be true
Will I finish strong
Will I stand up for the moment
When I could right a wrong
Because the legacy we have will never change
It's how we spend our days

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once again, it's about living these days I have with integrity.

The full lyrics:

A beginning and an ending, dates upon a stone
But the moment in the middle is how we will be known
Cause what defines us can be found within a line
Finding reason for our time

And the years go by, how they seem to fly
They'll all be over soon
When our life is done, did we live and love
The way we wanted to
Cause everyday that we leave behind
Goes on to tell the truth
Of how we lived in the line between the two
The line between the two

Will I walk straight, will I be true
Will I finish strong
Will I stand up for the moment
When I could right a wrong
Because the legacy we have will never change
It's how we spend our days


I could live a life for just myself
Or I could live a life for someone else
But I'll live and die just to hear
You say
Well done my son come and be with Me


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
How are you living your life between the two lines?

Are you living and loving like you want to?

Is there anything you would change if you knew the second date was closing in on you? Well, it is. None of us really know when that second date is going to close the gap. If you think something needs to change, then change it. Talk to someone about it. Remember that you do not need to walk the journey alone.

Blessings on living in between the lines!


Frank and Lottie Pruden, my paternal grandmother's (Nana) parents.
They are buried in Dalton, GA.  Though I never knew this set of great-grandparents,
I've heard some of the family stories passed down.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Time Away at the Beach... though a working vacation, my soul found rest.

Cape San Blas, FL

view of the beach
view of the dunes and beach from the condo
I spent last week in Florida on Cape San Blas.  It was a quiet and beautiful get-away!  There weren't many people on the beach, the weather was perfect (until the last night), and there were opportunities to take a sunset cruise, a snorkeling trip, do some shopping, walk along the beach, collect some sea shells, get in one TaeKwonDo workout on the beach, sleep in, rest, visit with some friends, make some new friends, and how can I forget?!?!  Get my final paper written for the semester for one of my seminary courses!!!

Though this time was not designated as personal retreat time, there was some time for thinking (besides that for the paper!) as well as some time for silence and solitude (primarily on the beach or while snorkeling). 

It was good to not have to worry about any of the regular responsibilities of life (other than my school commitments) and to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the surf!

Breaking one's typical daily rhythm in order to slow down and minimize one's focus is an important part of the journey. 

For me, being able to wander along the shore watching the creatures attempt to burrow as quickly as they could was a joyous activity.

As was collecting some shells while snorkeling and taking pictures of sunsets, sandcastles, and shells.  Even with my paper, I was able to slow down and relax.  That is pretty major for me. :)

There was a wedding on the beach while we were there, so I was able to get some pictures from a safe distance of that too. 

Time away.  Time to just "be" without having to necessarily "do".    

Some of the "doing" involved shopping, Taekwondo, playing Mexican Train dominoes, walking along the beach shore, playing around in the waves, snorkeling, taking a sunset cruise.  Both the sunset cruise and the snorkeling trip were taken through Seahorse Water Safaris.


There were some serendipity moments during the trip as well as some deep, inner peaceful moments through which God poked me and reminded me that He does care, He is paying attention, and that things are going to be okay. 

All I know is that it was an uphill battle for quite a while for me to even be able to go on this trip, but it was worth all the effort, trouble, and prayer that went into it. 

This was one of those trips that you tuck away in your memory for a lifetime.  This was a road trip taken with friends to get away.  No agendas (except for the paper this time). 

There is another trip like this one that I got to take many years ago (mid 80s) prior to marriage and child.  Though the responsibility list in life wasn't as high as now, it was still a wonderful get-away trip to a beach area with a special friend.  The trip?  Cancún, México.  The friend? My Spanish-speaking first cousin Michelle.  That was a great trip!  

Have you taken some time to get away recently?   Whether for relaxation or personal retreat, time away to a peaceful destination will calm your soul.

May there be some peace and calm in your journey,

TaeKwonDo workout.  Stretching prior.  No--the truck did not run me over. :)
Punches to warm up arms before practicing form and doing E-CAS.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Swirling...Shoulders...Sisters...Be Still...It's going to make you stronger...

Though the physical storms have passed through our area, they left a path of destruction.  The clean-up is ongoing here (in the southeastern TN, north GA and north AL area) as well as many other areas of these states and other states.  It has been encouraging to see all the help and support come forth.  It is needed now and will continue to be needed for a while.

Another swirling of sorts has been going on in my life, though that doesn't seem abnormal.  This week has held lots of interesting things for me.

I got a great evaluation at physical therapy and the shoulder doctor.  My frozen shoulders have improved significantly these past six weeks.  This latest round of PT has included major amounts of stretching and soft tissue work.  I don't know if the healing can be attributed to the therapy, the timing, or both-- but healing is taking place.  That is huge for me, to have more movement in my arms without pain.  This summer will be 2 years from when I first started having some issues.  The doctor has recommended 3-4 more weeks of PT, for which I am grateful.  Hopefully we'll get all the little issues taken care of!

On the day I had PT and the doc. appointment, I had lunch at Rembrandt's between the two.  Rembrandt's is a great little café in the Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga.  They have wonderful coffee, yummy desserts, great soups and sandwiches.  On that day, I had the tomato artichoke soup and some chai latte tea.  It was a little crowded inside and a little too cool and windy to sit outside.  The only table available was a 4 seater near the cash register.  So, I took it.  While I'm eating, 3 ladies came in looking for a place to sit and to order their food.  As a tiny two-seater had opened up, I offered my table, but they declined.  Then, another 4 seater opened up by the door that leads outside.  We didn't have a whole lot of conversation, but a little.  Then, a few minutes later, another group of three enters looking for a place to sit.  I offer them my table and go ahead and move my stuff to the tiny table.   They accepted my offer.  I was now sitting closer to the three ladies.  They thought maybe I worked there because I had recommended the soup.  It turned out that two of the ladies live here in Chattanooga and one was visiting. At one point, the visiting lady turns to me and tells me something to the effect of: 'We're sisters.  We're spending time together this week visiting and catching up.  I just had to tell you that.'  They told me that the three of them were very similar in many ways and in their beliefs and thinking.  It became evident that they were on a faith journey as well.   The fact that the one from Texas told me that and told me that she had to tell me... well, it makes me ponder-- 'what am I to learn from this?'  One thing it did for me was to encourage me in all of my relationships..... to make sure I'm making time to keep the connections strong.  If not in presence, at least through e-mails or phone calls, even texts.  It's not always easy, but I'm trying.  Time has a way of slipping quickly by.  A second thing that struck me was my upcoming trip to FL with some girls.  A group of us are heading down to a beach house for some sun, sand, and surf.  I am the lucky one who also will be writing a paper and studying for a final exam.  Sisters.  I am blessed to not only have these sisters, but a group of sisters that I've gotten to know this semester in my CL613 class, our "Mark" group.  Then there are other sisters in Bible Study, Sunday School, church in general, around town, out of town, family folk--aunts, cousins, grandmother, mom, daughter, step-daughter, sister-in-laws (former and current), ETC.  Not to mention the connections that just seem to "happen" through other connections.  I've tried to cover all situations here.  There are many, many past and present relationships for which I am grateful.  They have helped me become the person I am today.  It's true.  Sisters are a blessing.

I heard a new song yesterday.  What I heard at first were the words "Be still".  Now, those words, along with the rest of Psalm 46:10 are meaningful to me and have been with me for several years.  I'm a slow learner. :)  At the end of the song, I learned the title: "I Lift My Hands" by Chris Tomlin.  There were quite a few words that grabbed my attention in the song.  Thus, I'm sharing the lyrics:

I Lift My Hands” by Chris Tomlin, from the album “And If Our God is For Us”
Be still, there is a healer
His love is deeper than the sea
His mercy, it is unfailing
His arms are a fortress for the weak

Let faith arise
Let faith arise

I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, You are my strength
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember
You are faithful, God, forever

Be still, there is a river
That flows from Calvary's tree
A fountain for the thirsty

Pure grace that washes over me

So let faith arise
Let faith arise
Open my eyes
Open my eyes

I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, You are my strength
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember
You are faithful, God
You are faithful, God, forever (Chris Tomlin shares background on the song) (the song itself, the best sound one I could find, though there are others out there)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The song touches me on several levels.  As I mentioned, it is taking me a long time to learn to "be still".  Some days I get it, other days I don't.  I'm aware that this will be a life-long learning process on the journey. :)  Being able to lift my hands up.... well that is something I can do better now than before.  So, the song touches me on that level as well.  There is more, but that suffices for now.  Besides, there is one more song that I keep hearing on the radio.

I've heard a song several times now.  The words of this song tell me that even though the waves are kicking me under, the pain isn't going to last forever, that this is going to make me stronger.  Hmmpphh!!  What if I don't want to be stronger??  You know the feeling..... though we may recognize that there is growth on the other side of pain, sometimes we just don't have it in us to keep on going through the pain to get there.  So, what if it's going to make us stronger.  Honestly, if you knew everything in my life, and if that transferred into some sort of physical body-building, then I would look like one of the best trained body builders in the world. :)  I think I'm strong enough, thank you. :)  [You may be thinking the same thing.  That you've been through enough already.]  Yet, I realize that I really do have more learning and growing to do.  So, I'm willing to grow through the pain.  I'm willing to reach out when I no longer have the strength to hang on and throw out my rope to others and say: "on belay?"  It is within community that I have the strength to keep on keeping on.  And, it is within community that you have the strength as well.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to the song.  It's by Mandisa.  From the album: "What if We Were Real" (link to the song)

Hey, heard you were up all night
Thinking about how your world ain't right
And you wonder if things will ever get better
And you're asking why is it always raining on you
When all you want is just a little good news

Instead of standing there stuck out in the weather
Oh, don't hang your head
It's gonna end
God's right there
Even if it's hard to see Him
I promise you that He still cares

When the waves are taking you under
Hold on just a little bit longer
He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, stronger
The pain ain't gonna last forever
And things can only get better

Believe me
This is gonna make you stronger
Gonna make you stronger, stronger, stronger
Believe me, this is gonna make you ...

Try and do the best you can
Hold on and let Him hold your hand
And go on and fall into the arms of Jesus

Oh, lift your head it's gonna end
God's right there
Even when you just can't feel Him
I promise you that He still cares

'Cause if He started this work in your life
He will be faithful to complete it
If only you believe it
He knows how much it hurts
And I'm sure that He's gonna help you get through this

When the waves are taking you under
Hold on just a little bit longer
He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, stronger
The pain ain't gonna last forever
In time it's gonna get better

Believe me
This is gonna make you stronger
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, that's what's going on in my life. :)  What's going on in yours?  How is your journey going?  Whatever you find yourself going through, I hope that you can find your way to a place of realizing that yes, it is going to make you stronger (if you'll allow it to) and that you can make it through.  Remember that we're not meant to make this journey alone, that we can't make it alone.  Reach out to others. 

I'm looking forward to being spit out on the beach for a few days (how's that for a Jonah reference?  though it might mean we'll have to go deeper one day and pursue where is my "Nineveh"?)  I'm looking forward to finishing my M.A.P. paper there.  (Ministry Action Plan).  This paper has been swirling around inside of me since we started this semester.  Whew!  What a semester!  What a week!  So many good things.  Lots of difficult things.  That's life.  In the end, it's what we do with those things and how we choose to allow them to affect us.  I'm hoping that I'm growing in humility and learning to love others more than myself.

As the journey continues, may we learn from one another and may we support and encourage one another.  I encourage us all to share our stories, to create safe spaces for others to be able to tell their stories.  Telling our stories, listening to other people's stories.... it's part of the journey.  It helps us connect into the bigger story. (Like me haphazardly mentioning Jonah... and thinking about Nineveh... just something to think about...)


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Preparations for ministry...playing Hide and Seek

Over the past several months, possibly even years (if I'm honest enough to look back and if I have memory enough to recall), through conversations with numerous people, I continue to hear the words (said or written one way or another): 'that sounds like preparation for ministry to me'.

Some of those comments have been more direct, actual several different people, have actually gone beyond "ministry" in general to saying or implying the role of pastor. 

I wonder how many times I need to hear it in order to believe it?  The truth is, I can't see it.  Well, that's not quite the truth.  I can see it, but I can't see it.  What can I see?  I can see me teaching.  I can see me preaching.  I enjoy speaking God's Word.  I enjoy preparing a message that God has put on my heart, mind, and soul to share.  ("enjoy" is a little strong here, because sometimes there isn't enjoyment-- it's hard work, and there is a slight bit of fear and trepidation to say what I feel called to say).  Anway.....  I have a passion for seeing people learn and grow.  Period.  In life.  Whether that is learning a language, learning what their passion for life is and pursuing it, or growing in their spiritual journey.  I enjoy walking that path, even though it can be a difficult, arduous, even hellacious path at times. 

What precipated this commentary?  The other day I went to a meeting I thought was meeting, to learn we weren't meeting.  While I'm learning we're not meeting, I'm talking to the one person and not really acknowledging the others except for with a slight hello.  Then, I explain that I'm slightly out of whack, sleep deprived, working to keep a little person on task on her big Science Fair Project, etc.  Feeling a little guilty for having slighted this person, I sent a note of apology.

Her response: "All sounds like good prep for life as a pastor if you ask me." 

My response:  HMPPHH!!  Okay, that was my first response.  Then, I started thinking about how often I keep hearing this......  and what came into my mind next was the game of Hide and Seek.

Everyone knows how to play that game, right?  One person is designated as the counter/finder.  Everyone else goes and hides.  The counter counts to the designated number and then says, "Ready or not, here I come" and then goes to find each person.  That's how the game is supposed to be played. 

When I read my friend's response and the game popped into my head, it seemed to me that there was a different version of this game being played.  It feels like God is saying to me, "Ready or not, here you come."  And, I stop to scratch my head for a moment.  And laugh.  It makes sense in a way.  Most things in my life happen in odd ways. 

One, I learned "never say never" WAY before Justin Beiber ever sang about it.  And, for very different reasons.  I said I would "never" be a teacher.  And, I taught for 24 years.  When I look back at my life, I really taught for more of that as I was "Head" of the Archery Department at Camp Skyline and Saddlerock (following in Rainey and Felicia's footsteps!)  I taught swimming and sports, and ropes courses as well at camp.  When I was a little kid, I put my younger brother in a desk and gave him math lessons.  So, unbeknownst to me, I was a teacher long before I recognized it.

So, back to hide and seek.  I've not really been hiding. Truly I've been actively seeking, searching, asking, listening, and waiting.  I have acted upon those things which I believe I was supposed to do.  Yet, I do continue to wrestle with this question of ministry. 

As I feel called to help people in their spiritual journey-- spiritual formation, growth, discipleship, etc.-- and as I recognize the gifts of teaching and leadership and language skills, I wonder how to put it all together in such a way for ministry.  That's the missing puzzle for me.  There is no box-top for me at this time.  There is no map to follow.  I'm called to make the map.  One of the books for "Equipping the Laity" this semester hits this right on: Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition by Alan J. Roxburgh.

I've read it through once and am re-reading my notes in it currently.  There is one major thing missing in this book: my map.  I know, I know.  It's not going to be that easy. 

All I know to do is to keep on keeping on.  Keep learning, keep seeking, keep listening and to respond to what I feel God asking/pushing/telling/ me to do.  If you look at the path I'm on and have been on, it doesn't look "typical" for someone going in to ministry.  Actually, if I were to be honest, my life's path might not look "typical" on any level.  But that's okay, it's my journey.  It's my adventure.  And it doesn't have to be "typical" (in my opinion). 

To become a pastor in my denomination, there are steps to take (as with any denomination).  It's all listed out in the Book of Discipline, starting in paragraph 311 on page 209.  I'm not on that journey yet.  Or, at least, not per the guidelines set in the Book of Discipline.  To be perfectly honest with self and others, I believe that I am on that journey.  There have been quite a few things pointing to it.  (Okay, there are quite a few of you reading this who will say, "DUH!"  Go ahead.)  Whether or not I end up as a "pastor", I do sense that I'm being prepared for something.  It's scary, honestly.  But, for now, I'm going to stay the path in front of me, following the lead of my Guide on this journey.  What does the Lord require of me?  To to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.  (Micah 6:8, edited) That is what I will try to do.  

Even though I thought the game of hide and seek was supposed to be, 'Ready or not, here I come.', for me, I'm learning that it is 'Ready or not, here you come.'

It is definitely an adventurous journey!

May your day be blessed with some fond childhood memories,


Tutoring with WyzAnt... and reflections on teaching

A few weeks ago, I was up late at night and found WyzAnt, a tutoring agengy.  I signed up on their website to be a tutor for Spanish and French in our local area.  I also petitioned to be an ESL/ESOL tutor, based on my experience, learning, and training for that.  I ordered a background check done on me (I passed).  That is optional, but they encourage it.  I was accepted as a tutor.

This past Sunday, I got an e-mail from a potential customer.  I e-mailed back.  They needed to set a few things up on the website, and they did.  Then they sent me their phone number, so I called.  It was a mom looking for a tutor for her daughter.  Her daughter was preparing for a college Spanish exam.  She needed someone that day and possibly the next few days leading up to the exam.  My schedule was open.  We talked a little bit and she gave me the daughter's name and I called her.  We set up a time and within 45 minutes, I was over at the college library, ready to tutor.

We spent a total of 8 hours over the three days working on Spanish grammar.  It was a great experience for me, though it was bitter-sweet.  I love teaching.  I miss teaching.  (I don't miss grading papers though.)  I enjoy the classroom setting.  I enjoy working one-on-one.  I know that I'm where I'm supposed to be right now in life, but working with this young lady touched something.  Maybe it was just a reminder once again to me that I am a teacher, through and through.  Maybe it was a reminder that I'm pretty decent at what I do.  I say that humbly, based on results and comments from students.  There have been many students come through the doors of my classrooms that have had bad experiences with languages in the past and when they went back out after the learning experience, they had learned something new or restored their joy of learning (many, not all).  Maybe they struggled learning.  Maybe they had a teacher that didn't work with them.  Who knows the reasons.  Many students have told me that I restored their enjoyment of the language.  That is encouraging!  To help a student be able to learn a language sufficiently to communicate in it and enjoy it (and hopefully continue on with learning it), then that is job done!  (In fairness, I've not pleased every student nor been able to help every student.  There have been conflicts along the way.  However, for the most part, my teaching career helped students learn (at least for the time being), allowed them to have fun while doing it (for the most part), and most students would have decent things to say.  I would even hope that the disgruntled student might look back years down the road and see something good from the classroom experience. :)

I taught for 24 years.  Primarily Spanish.  French too.  French for eight years total in that time frame.  Primarily college, but also K-12, home-bound, adult education, tutoring, volunteering teaching for my daughters' 1st and 2nd grades.

Why did I retire/stop?  Primarily because one day my daughter asked me to be more available to her.  So, after considering her request and realizing there was more going on in the world than I knew, I acted on her request.  After that first retirement, I did go back into teaching fairly soon after when another institution had an emergency need.  That opportunity gave me online experience.  I was able to expand what I knew about online learning.  It was a great experience.    Then, it was time to stop again.  I didn't really understand why, but I knew it, I could feel it.  So I did.

If you've been reading my blog, you know I'm in seminary.  So, I'm fairly busy as a student.  I'm also busy with my family.  My daughter is active in life and keeps me on my toes in many, many ways.  I have the opportunity to teach sunday school every now and then, but that's not the same thing as teaching a language.

So, to have had this recent opportunity through WyzAnt to tutor Spanish has been a blessing.  Working with someone to see what they knew, what their learning style was, and to go from there..... teaching them the grammar, little "tricks" of learning along the way.  Hopefully I was able to not only help fill in the gaps of learning, but help restore some of the joy that had been lost for the language.  That was hard to see.  That makes not teaching difficult.  To know that I bring enthusiasm for the language and learning into the classroom, to know that I can make a difference..... makes it difficult when I hear of situations where it's not happening, where students are becoming apathetic and losing their desire to learn.  I don't get it, I don't understand.  Yet, it's not where I'm supposed to be.

I am, however, given the opportunity to make a difference one by one through tutoring, while I pursue my own studies in preparation for who knows what. 

So, I've been able to get some hours of Spanish teaching in recently.  It felt good.  And, on Sunday, I actually got to do three things I enjoy most all in one day:  preach/teach the Word of God, speak Spanish in a rattling off conversation (very unexpectedly with the music director at the church where I spoke), and teach languages (Spanish) that afternoon/evening through tutoring that student. 

I enjoy speaking French and teaching it as well!  It just doesn't come up as often.

Check out WyzAnt when you get a chance.  Just don't ask me how they pronounce their name.  I'm not sure. :)  I would like to say 'wise'.  But then, I think 'whiz' as in 'whiz kid'.  However, I realize the word 'whiz' (at least phonetically, I don't know how it is spelled) has other connotations.

May your journey include some language learning along the way,


Sunday, May 1, 2011

"What Do We Do Now?"-- message shared at White Oak UMC today

In spite of the tornadoes and storms that ravaged our area this past week, I was still able to attend White Oak UMC this morning and participate in their worship service.  Why is that of any significance?  Well, if you go back in this blog to December 26th, you will see that I was scheduled to speak there then, but we needed to cancel due to the snow storm.  When I was asked to come back in May, I jokingly told folks that if it snowed this time, that the guy upstairs was trying to tell me something.  Well, it didn't snow, but there was an act of nature that disrupted life.  The title of the message became a double-entendre, something I had not planned.  Though the church wasn't sure they would even have electricity today, they wanted to go ahead with having services.  I'm glad.  Not for my part.  Not at all.  But for the blessings I received.  I learned that David, the music director, is fluent in Spanish.  Who would have known?!?!  I met 2 fellow Asbury students (one has graduated).  I got to chat with folks I met when I "scouted out" the church in early December.  I got to join in on wonderful music as well as to listen to some jammin' piano and special worship music from the choir.  From the liturgist to the sound system, to those who prayed with and for me (some of the same folks), to those who spoke with me on the phone, to the visiting pastor from Orlando, FL and his wife who consider this their home, and to the pastor who invited me and is now on her honeymoon.... on behalf of myself and my family, thank you for inviting us into your family to worship.  We were blessed.

Here is the message (more or less) that I shared today as a Certified Lay Speaker in the United Methodist Church......

“What Do We Do Now?”

John 20:19-31

White Oak UMC, May 1st, 2011

Scripture: John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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Imagine the scene.  Try to put yourself into the story.  The disciples had gathered together behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.  I imagine they might be sitting around asking themselves, “What do we do now?”  Without knocking, without opening the door, Jesus enters the room and says “Peace be with you”. 

I don’t know about you, but if I were behind locked doors out of fear in the first place and anyone entered the room without coming through the door, “peace” would be the last thing on my mind.

The disciples had been told that Jesus’ body was not found in the tomb, but they had not seen him yet.  So, imagine their surprise when someone enters their locked room and it is the resurrected Jesus.  Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side.  The Message says that the disciples were “exuberant” upon seeing Jesus.  The NIV says “overjoyed”.  The NRSV says they “rejoiced”.  Think about what must have been going through their minds… the conversations they had had with Jesus the week before, all the events of the past week.  And, now, here he was, in their midst.

 As their minds were trying to grasp the reality of it all, they were probably beginning to realize the truth of what he had been telling them.  One more time Jesus tells them “Peace be with you”.  And, then he adds: “Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”  Jesus is commissioning the disciples here to go and do as He had done.  Go and teach…preach…heal…feed…clothe…care for the sick…care for the dying… care for those who are without electricity and for those whose homes have been destroyed…cut down trees for neighbors in need….LOVE…love one another…go and be, go and do, just as Christ Jesus had gone and done.

To complete the commissioning, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them.  Before Jesus had been crucified, he had told the disciples that he would not leave them alone once he was gone, but that he would send a helper to be with them.  After breathing the Holy Spirit into them, he reminds the disciples to forgive.  For Jesus to mention forgiveness here might let both the disciples and us know that forgiveness is an important part of doing things in the way of Christ. 

Now, not every disciple was in that room that day.  We read further on, starting in verse 12, that Thomas had not been there with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared.   When the disciples told Thomas they had seen Jesus, Thomas’ reaction was that he wanted proof.  He wanted to be able to see the marks in his hands and side.  Not only did he want to see, he wanted to touch them as well.  Thomas has gotten a bad reputation over the years.  In all fairness, the other disciples did see the marks on Jesus’ hands and side.   He is only asking to do what they had been able to do.  Maybe he didn’t fully believe his friends.  Maybe Thomas was a visual learner.  Hearing about it from his friends was okay, but he really wanted to see.  He also wanted to touch.  Thomas had a different learning style from the others.  That’s okay.  We don’t all process things the same way.  We don’t all live out our faith journey the same way.  That doesn’t mean something is wrong.  Thomas gets his opportunity to check out Jesus for himself a week later from the time the other disciples first saw Jesus.  Jesus came through shut doors once again.  Once again, Jesus greeted the group with “peace be with you.”  How did Jesus respond to Thomas?  Jesus didn’t even give Thomas the opportunity to question him.  Instead, Jesus approaches Thomas and tells him to reach out and touch his hands, then to touch his side.  Jesus knew that Thomas needed to see, like the others, and also feel.  Instead of belittling Thomas, Jesus allowed for Thomas’ needs.  Thomas was able to live into the questions, the doubts, and get his answers.  Thomas needed that space to grow on his faith journey and Jesus gave it to him.  Thomas’ response to Jesus was immediate belief and recognition.  In a commentary for these verses, Bruce Epperly wrote:  “Healthy resurrection faith makes space for doubts, questions, and unbelief.” (March 30, 2008 Lectionary Commentary,  In a different year’s commentary for these verses, Epperly writes this about Thomas: “Thomas’ faith reminds us that living in community in spite of our doubts is the only way we can find the truth that will sustain us.” (April 3, 2005 Lectionary Commentary,

Let’s step out of the biblical scene.  What does all of this mean for us?  What do we do now?

We are those disciples that Jesus has commissioned to go and do as He has done.  Once Jesus came into the room, the disciples knew what they were to do.  As we look at their encounter with the resurrected Jesus, we can take four things with us that we can do:

1)     Go and do what Jesus has gone and done

2)     Accept the peace that Jesus offers us as He enters into our midst

3)     Breathe in the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes upon us

4)     Live a life of forgiveness, of reconciliation.

As we think about these four areas, let’s personalize the lesson by asking ourselves these questions:

·       Am I going and doing as Jesus has done?  Am I reaching out to the lost, the hurting, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the dying, the homeless?  Am I reaching out with Christ’s love?  This week has really opened up an opportunity for us to live this out more radically than normal because of the tornadoes and storms.  Opportunities with our neighbors, with our friends and family, with our churches, within our District.  Camp Lookout, our District camp suffered a heavy loss.  They’ve already had one workday and will have more.  UMCOR has already set up a number for the southern storms.  There are ways to help.

·       Have I accepted the peace that Jesus offers me?

·       Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit on me.  Have I inhaled?  In a commentary for these verses, Bruce Epperly wrote: “When God’s lively wind breathes within us, we become spirit-filled and spirit-centered, able to do more than we can imagine as God’s partners in healing the world and our personal lives.  God’s Holy Spirit is a healing spirit, mending wounds of relationships, bodies, memories, and the planet.” (March 30, 2008 Lectionary Commentary,

·       Jesus also said to forgive.  To live into forgiveness means to live into a life of reconciliation.  Am I living a life that reveals forgiveness and reconciliation?

 As we close today, I want us to realize that we are Easter people.  Have you heard Christ followers referred to as “resurrection people” or “Easter people”?  Since we follow a resurrected Christ, a risen Lord, we are resurrection people, Easter people. 

As “resurrection people”, “Easter people”, how are we to live?  I want to share with you some words from Bishop Michael Coyner of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church as he addressed “Living as Easter People” on their conference webpage.  Listen as he compares “Easter people” to “church people”, pointing out 5 differences:

Living as Easter people

The holy season of Easter - the great 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday - calls us to live as Easter people. By contrast, sometimes we settle for just being "church people." There is really quite a difference between those two lifestyles.

·    Easter people base their faith on the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of Easter. Church people base their faith on their own busy work in the church.

·    Easter people trust in Christ; church people try to earn this salvation by being good people.

·    Easter people know that the church is the Body of Christ; church people believe the church is just another institution.

·    Easter people worship out of a sense of joy and give their offerings out of a sense of gratitude to God. Church people too often attend worship and give to the church budget out of a sense of obligation. And most importantly,

·    Easter people approach their own death or the death of a loved one anticipating the promise of Resurrection. Church people fear death and live life with a sense of dread.

Do you hear the difference? Church people are good people, hard working people, often the backbone of their community, respectable and faithful. Easter people are church people who have finally discovered what the Christian faith is all about.

It's sad when some people live their whole life as what John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, called "Almost Christians." Wesley urged the church people of his day to discover what he had finally discovered in the heart-warming experience we call his Aldersgate Experience. Wesley searched and searched to know God, to find joy in his faith and to have an assurance of God's grace.

When he attended a prayer meeting on Aldersgate Street in London, England he heard the group leader reading from Martin Luther. He heard about Luther's focus from Romans that "the just shall live by faith."

Wesley writes that he felt his heart "strangely warmed" and finally he knew for himself God's love and forgiveness. At that moment, Wesley changed from being a hard-working, religious and dutiful church person. Wesley became an Easter person.

Several years ago composers Richard Avery and Donald Marsh put this joy into a little song called "Every Morning is Easter Morning." The chorus goes: "Ev'ry morning is Easter morning from now on! Ev'ry day's resurrection day, the past is over and gone!" The first stanza includes the words: "I am one of the Easter people! My new life has begun!"

My prayer for all United Methodists people is that this season of Easter might be a time of discovering our Easter faith, learning to know God's love, and becoming Easter people. Happy Easter!

Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church
Making a Difference in Indiana
and around the world.

May we leave here today, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be the Easter people that Jesus has commissioned us to be—doing as Jesus has done, accepting the peace offered to us, breathing in the Holy Spirit, and living a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.  AMEN.