Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Random thoughts....reflections on life, ministry, and who knows what?

Tonight is January 30th, the eve of the last day in the month of January.  Where, oh, where has this month gone?!?!

I turned off the television because there wasn't really anything to watch (or to captivate my attention).

I have things to do....

I am reading Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O'Connor.  It's one of the required readings for session #8 of Academy #32.  It's hard to fathom that my Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation will be over in April.  Well, not truly "over".  As a wise woman in my workshop put it, the journey is just beginning.  I get that. ☺  This journey that I've been on for almost 2 years has taught me much, but it doesn't end in April. 

This book that I'm reading in preparation for April was written in 1968.  My version was published in 1975.  Yet, it is as appropriate and current now (and even cutting edge) as it was then.  It has been full of nuggets.  I will likely post at some point on it.

Tonight's Bible Study at church was on another Kingdom Parable, two actually: the mustard seed and leaven.  We each got a mustard seed.  I attempted to take a picture of it in my hand, but it was too close and therefore a tad blurry.  But, I decided that this tiny seed is going to become a tree.  Now, it might become a figurative tree instead of a literal one, but that's okay.  I still aim to plant it though.  Much like Mustard Tree Ministries here locally, I am curious to see what ministries will flow from this tiny mustard seed as it grows.  What branches will branch off from the investments?  I imagine there will be fruit of which I am never aware.  Yet, I give myself to the unknown and surrender my tiny seed to the Kingdom so that God will grow it into whatever it is that it is to be.

I have thoughts of Camel Land and friends, known and unknown.  I wish I could be there to encourage, to carry the burden of work, to help sort things out, or to simply have a cup of tea.  Yet, I am here and they are there.  I can only think on the things I have been given and turn those things over to someone bigger than myself.  I know why they are on my mind tonight.... at least I think I do.  They may be on my mind for some other reason and I may be called to lift them up.  So, I lift them up even now as I write.

Oh, how I am enjoying my workshop community!  This is my 3rd time to facilitate the course on Growing Spiritually Through Daily Discipline.  It is a Lay Speaker course that uses a Steve Harper book, Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition Workbook.  One does not have to be seeking Lay Servant Certification to take the workshop; it can be taken for personal enrichment.  Every time I enter into this workshop, I am pleasantly amazed at the wonderful community that is brought together to learn and grow for the seven weeks.  It is truly a blessing!

For the first time ever, my blog might reach a record of 1,500 hits for a month.  That is mind-boggling to me.  Readership is world-wide... another mind-boggling thing for me.  I wonder.... is this part of my mustard tree?  Has my tree already been growing and producing branches without me even being aware?!?!

Last week I went to another friend's father's viewing.  That made 3 in six months.  There was another viewing and another funeral in that time too.  Death and dying always become a cause for reflection as they point to life, family, relationships, healing, reconciliation... as well as the rougher spots along the journey. 

I continue to learn about myself and to grow.  There is much to learn still and much growing to do.  Layer upon layer, moment upon moment.  My hope and my desire is that the more I learn and grow, that I will be able to live out the ministry of presence in the lives of others.... that I will be able to truly love others.... by listening, by serving, by sharing.  I hope that through the cracks in this vessel that the light will shine through, revealing the Source of its existence in and through me.

On the good days, I imagine God's love and light are seen shining through.  On the bad and ugly days (yes, they exist in my life!), it would be my hope and desire that at some point, God's love and light are seen as I respond with humility, seek forgiveness, etc. 

So, thus endeth a rambling random post.  Does it even make sense?!!?!  Who knows?  But, I do know at least one person who can appreciate random thoughts.  And, for that person, there is duct tape awaiting your return.  For the rest of you, you may be wondering what random thoughts and duct tape have in common.  All I know is that they have become associated for me.  ☺ Maybe duct tape is what I need to pull together my thoughts?!?!

Blessings on your journey.... whether it be inward or outward at this very moment, be engaged and intentional!


Monday, January 28, 2013

To God be the glory! Roy Treiyer on piano!


Yesterday afternoon I went to a piano recital at Burks United Methodist Church in Hixson, TN (my home church) to hear a young man, Roy Treiyer, tickle the ivories.

Wow!  Roy has recently become the pianist for our Traditional service and has played once in the Contemporary service. 

Not only did he tickle those ivory keys, but he was putting them through some activity!

According to the program, Roy began his piano studies at the age of 11 and received a degree in Music Education from River Plate Adventist University (Universidad Adventista del Plata) in Entre Ríos, Argentina in 2012.  He received a Psychology degree from the same institution in 2010.  He is currently working on his Masters in Piano Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC).

Another cool thing (in my opinion) about Roy is that he was born in Puerto Rico and grew up both in the U.S. and in Argentina.  His beautiful wife, Natalia, is from Argentina.   When his wife comes to church with him, that will make a total of four Spanish speakers (maybe more) in our congregation.  (I'm hoping to increase that number!)

Roy has a CD recording, "Shine, Jesus, Shine" (original release date: November 1, 2012) or "Brilla, Jesús, Brilla".  He played several of the selections from this recording during the recital.  He has arranged several songs for piano solo. 

"Awesome God" was amazing to listen to and to watch him play as Roy's fingers were all over the keys and the notes were flying out! 

The program included:

Shine, Jesus, Shine
Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It / Go, Tell it on the Mountain
Traditional Russian Melody (which is the basis for a Spanish hymn, but not found in English)
Nearer, Still Nearer
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
My Prayer (a piece he wrote)
Awesome God
Holy, Holy, Holy
No More Night

You can check out some of Roy's wonderful piano playing by going to the following sites:

Shine, Jesus, Shine
No More Night
Nothing Can Separate Us (starts at 15:43 and goes to the end)

To listen to Roy's CD recording and/or to buy it, go to CD Baby or Amazon

Music is an international language, a language of the soul.  It crosses over and through barriers and opens up spaces that bring people together. 

Yesterday's recital was wonderful, worshipful, and beautiful. Roy is full of talent and grace.  He plays with passion, strength, and humility.

I (among others) was very blessed by the gifts he shared with us. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Time outdoors at one of my favorite spots

My daughter is gone this weekend to Gatlinburg, TN for the middle school Resurrection and my husband had to work today.  So, after having taken care of some things at home this morning (finally finishing one of my session #2 Academy books, The Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann, and catching up on my online workshop I am facilitating), I grabbed my backpack and took off to the woods to one of my favorite spots, North Chickamauga Creek and Gorge.  AHHHH!!

However, upon arriving there, I found a church bus parked in the driveway.  The gate was locked.  Let down.  But, I pulled in next to the bus, got out, and starting chatting with the guys.  They were scout leaders from Knoxville, TN.  They had an overnight backpacking permit and planned to hike in and camp out with some of their troop.  They weren't expecting a locked gate.  Neither was I.  One of the leaders turned out to be a Bryan College graduate, graduating a few years before I came on campus to teach.  He met his wife there.  We had some friends in common on the campus and chatted BC Lions for a few.  They had called the appropriate numbers and someone was on the way to unlock the gate, so this allowed for calm chatting.  The boys were on and off the bus, a tad restless.  A guy came and unlocked the gate.  He was a neighbor and had gotten a call to come unlock it.

We were able to get in!  I was hoping for some kayakers, but sadly saw none.  However, I saw boulderers (people who boulder) as I started down the trail.  I asked if I could watch and take some pictures and they granted permission.  One had been at it for 2 years; the other about a year and a half.  They both try to get out at least weekly to boulder.  They had parked up on the road and had come down through the woods.  I watched and took some pictures, then ventured on.

As I left that area, I spotted some china on the ground.  That is odd for the woods.  I took a picture of it, then picked it up.  I wonder how it got there was one thing on my mind.  But the other thing in my thoughts was how perfect this piece would be for my friend Jeanne who does broken china art/jewelry with her Broken Elegance.

I wandered on down the trail, listening to the roar of the filled creek from all the rain we have gotten recently.  With the creek to my left, I walked along, stopping to take pictures and admiring the recently worked over path.  They have been doing work on the path with some sort of machinery, moving some rocks and smoothing it out.  It was quite muddy in spots, yet decent.

Meanwhile, the scouts haven't started on their trek just yet.  They are gathered outside their bus, getting their gear together... or so it seems from a distance.  Some rangers come and are chatting with them too.

After going down the path a while, the bouldering guys pass me as they look for more boulders to climb.

I decided to head back and go down to the lower picnic area so I get closer to the water and on the rocks.

As I headed back and passed through the parking lot, the scouts were still going through their gear, so I stopped for a chat and a photograph.  One of the scouts has graduated up to being a leader.  His sister went to Bryan, after I had been there.  I got to visit with the rangers a little too.

Then, I was off for some more rocks and water and/or silence and solitude.  As I neared my destination, there was someone heading back to their vehicle.  I hung out on the large flat rock for a while, but moved further away to not be in their space. 

I went to the gauge area and took some pictures.  I climbed over rocks and trees and made my way through the brush.  I found what looked to be a fossil rock.  I took a few pictures and left it there, though I was tempted to keep it because it almost looked like it could have been animal toes. 

I decided to video record some of the trickling and rushing waters for future quiet time meditation. 

When I decided to head back to the car, I went up by a tiny creek branch.  I found myself crossing back and forth as the path was best.  Suddenly it struck my that this was just like my childhood days when I would play in the woods at my Dad's campground, Trails Inn, off Connector 3, in Dalton, GA.  I would play in the woods for hours by the water, in the woods, etc.  A huge smile crossed my face as I realized the connection.  Those woods no longer exist.  My family and I went back recently to see when in Dalton.  Some of the campground still exists.  The fishing pond is still there.   The office building is there.  They are different, yet there.  There are mobile units on some of the sites and houses or other mobile units built up on the hill where the Enduro races would start.  The creek is still there.  But on the other side, there are no woods.  They have been destroyed.  There are industrial plants on the other side now.  So, even though I have felt a calling 'to go back' for a couple of years now, there is no 'back' to go to.  At least not physically.  I had to go see it to know that.  Yet, I believe there is still a 'back' spiritually and that is part of my spiritual growth and unfolding as I continue this journey.

Today was a breath of fresh air for me in my journey.  I got out into the woods.  I played on the big and little rocks.  I even skipped one rock.  I found some treasures of nature and other treasures.  I had conversations with people and made connections, even if we never see each other again.

But, most of all, I had time in creation with the Creator.  I basked in the beauty of the handiwork and was renewed by what I saw and what I heard.  My soul was also touched deep down at a level I won't fully understand as I travelled "home" to Trails Inn for a moment, to the early days of hanging out with my Creator in creation.

It was a few hours of body, soul, and mind relaxation, refreshment, rejeuvenation, filling, healing, and truly who knows what else?!?!

This was part of my journey today.  Contemplative with silence, solitude, nature and then some conversation thrown in.

What in your day has blessed your spirit? 

Blessings on your journey,






Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Growth opportunities...

Each one of us receive growth opportunities daily.  I say "receive" because they are like gifts.  Our receptivity to these opportunities and our follow-up action with these opportunities will be the indicators to whether or not we truly grow because of them.

What kinds of growth opportunities come your way?  Do you recognize them?  They may come in the form of interruptions, an unexpected job offer, a difficult diagnosis of self/friend/loved one, an accident, a challenging thought or reflection from a book or a speaker, ETC.  The sources are endless.

This morning I read about growth opportunities coming from anxiety.  Now that is something to think about for me.... turning anxiousness around for good to become a growth opportunity instead of a stumbling block.  That sounds pretty awesome.

In today's Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, the devotion speaks of trust and growth:

"STRIVE TO TRUST ME in more and more areas of your life.  Anything that tends to make you anxious is a growth opportunity.  Instead of running away from these challenges, embrace them, eager to gain all the blessings I have hidden in the difficulties.  If you believe that I am sovereign over every aspect of your life, it is possible to trust Me in all situations.  Don't waste energy regretting the way things are or thinking about what might have been.  Start at the present moment--accepting things exactly as they are--and search for My way in the midst of those circumstances.
     Trust is like a staff you can lean on, as you journey uphill with Me.  If you are trusting in Me consistently, the staff will bear as much of your weight as needed.  Lean on, trust, and be confident in Me with all your heart and mind." (page 23) 

The Scripture verses listed for today are: Psalm 52:8; Proverbs 3:5-6 (Amplified)

I will ask the questions that jump out (to me) from this reading:
  • What tends to make you anxious? 
  • Do you find yourself running away from the challenge(s) or embracing it (them)?
  • What in your life feels like you are traveling uphill?  Are you on that journey alone or are you traveling it with the One who will sustain you? 
There are other journeyers along the path who can share strength and sustenance with you.  Don't forget to lean on them for support and to provide support for them.

Blessings on your journey!

~Debra ☺

Friday, January 18, 2013

Taking Down the Christmas Tree...A Ritual of Remembrance

January 18, 2013

Typically we take down our tree after Epiphany (January 6), but I was out of town last week for an Academy session.  I secretly hoped my husband and daughter would take off the ornaments and lights while I was gone, but they didn't.  My husband reasoned that he wouldn't have put them in the correct boxes.  Most of the ornaments fit in their original boxes, so that's not a great excuse.  It IS like putting together a puzzle though, attempting to find the right box for the ornament.  And, there are always ornaments left without a home at the end.  So, I understand his reluctancy.  I feel the same way.

But on the first sunshine day since I've been back home, I set out to de-ornament the tree.  As I took off each ornament and set it in the armchair (boxing them up comes later), I realized that this is a process of both remembering and letting go. 

Each ornament has a history, a story.  And, as each one comes off the tree (the poor prickly tree), I am reminded that it is time to let go of the Christmas season.  The twelve days of Christmas have ended and I don't celebrate by leaving the decorations up until February 2 (Candlemas).  For more on Candlemas, check out this link.

We had a smaller tree this year, so we didn't put up all our ornaments.  So, I didn't get to re-live all of the ornaments this season.

But, there were still quite a few to reflect upon.  There were the hobby ornaments: hiking and kayaking Santa, piano, swimmer, karate figure, sparring helmet.  There were the places we've visited ornaments: Paradise Ranch, Chicago, Grandfather Mountain, Rock City, Costa Rica, Washington, DC.  There were the picture ornaments: Charlotte at various ages and stages and one of Sean and Dana as kids.  The homemade ornaments: one that my former father-in-law made of a wise-man out of wood, some that Charlotte made, hand-made glass blown ornaments and an egg ornament.  The Spanish ornaments:  several "Feliz Navidad" ones in a variety of forms, a Spanish Santa Claus, and a nativity scene inside a cave. There were the snow flakes and crosses and candy canes (some real, some out of wood).  There were snowmen.  There were several Mickey Mouse ornaments.  There was the Pharmacy stamp ornament to honor my husband's profession.  There were the sports teams: Denver Bronco (1 being John Elway) and Chicago Cubs. There were ornaments that I inherited from my Nana and ornaments from my childhood that I received (though most of those are still on my parent's tree). There were ornaments that I've received as gifts.  The skirt around the bottom was made by my Mom in 1990 and this year's topper was made by Charlotte, a bright yellow paper star (ninja star-style).




One by one the ornaments came off the tree.  It was a time to reflect and remember the days gone by:  family, relationships, memories. 

Then I took off the lights, the star, and removed the skirt. 

My husband took care of removing the tree from the house.  It will become a sanctuary for birds or other animals (or simply find its way back to the earth) in the woods behind our home.

There are two challenges that remain.  One:  finding the correct box for each ornament and two: getting all those needles out of the house.... likely I'll be finding them for a while.

For me, this has been a time of reflection.

The journey continues,

Debra ☺

Friday, January 4, 2013

Restlessness gives way to peace as I abide.....

I changed the dining room table linens from red and green to a wintery blue.  I put away some of the Christmas items, leaving the tree up until Epiphany (January 6th), though I may be dreaming that I will actually get it down the day before I leave for Academy session #7 of our Academy #32. 

As restlessness crept upon me and overtook me, I looked for something to read.... and nothing caught my attention.  So I picked up my Macrina Wiederkehr book, Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, to see where I had left off in my devotional reading.

As soon as I opened to my bookmark and read the chapter title, "Staying Connected to the Vine", I started to feel some peace.  The Scripture for this section is John 15:1-8.  The danger in such a familiar passage is to read it without thinking, so I forced myself to read it slowly.  Then, I read the words of Macrina Wiederkehr.  This is what I needed for my soul to rest.  I needed to abide. 

Some of the things that stood out to me from the reading:

"Jesus often used symbols from the world of nature as teaching tools.  He encouraged his followers to look at the common things around them: bread, water, salt, light, fig trees, birds, sheep, rocks, seed, wildflowers, mountains, vines, and branches.  They were to learn lessons from these natural gifts by listening to their wordless sermons." (58)

Oh how I enjoy learning from nature's wordless sermons!  They abound!  Sometimes I seek them out.  At other times they seem to simply show themselves. 

Macrina writes: "Perhaps you too have discovered a beautiful truth in these "nature teachings" of Jesus.  In the ordinary miracles of nature there is a thin veil that separates us from the face of God, or we might say, a cloud that obscures us from the divine mystery.  Jesus often gives us clues, trying to lead us closer to our sacred Source.  He wants to help us break through the veil that separates us from our heart's deepest longing, which, of course, is union with the divine.  The Christian Celtic peoples spoke of these elusive connections with God as the thin places." (58) 

There is so much packed in those lines.   What clues is Jesus putting in front of me, in front of you, to help lead us closer to the Source?  Are we recognizing those clues?  What teachings from nature have been most significant to you?  Are we breaking through that veil?

In reading the passage about pruning, one cannot help but reflect upon what might need to be pruned in one's life.  As I head into another Academy session, I am not so sure that I desire "pruning" to be my word for the week.  Yet, if pruning is what is needed at this time in my life in order for me to bear more fruitful fruit and to be rid of needless dead wood or baggage, then I am open for the procedure.

Macrina writes: "It is a grace to be able to recognize how the branches of our lives need to be trimmed.  The trimming is generally for our good and for the good of the faith community of which we are a part.  The pruning will assist us in our journey to the "deepening places."  It is a work of transformation that will enable us to discover the incredible beauty of the intimate bond we have with Christ." (59)

The last paragraph of the devotional opens and closes with the following sentences that to me reveal that the effort of living out our faith is reciprocal between community and the individual: "Our efforts to stay connected to Christ will help us to remain spiritually linked to one another."  "The more we can learn from each other and support one another's respective journeys, the greater will be our intimacy with the One to whom we all belong." (61)

Macrina closes with this prayer:

Jesus, Vine of God,
     Just as you have proclaimed to be the vine, I proclaim that I am one of your branches.  To abide in you, to remain rooted and connected to you, is my soul's dream.  My heart desires you.  O Vine of God, protect and cherish all your branches.  Prune me carefully so that you may never cut away more than I can bear.  May your pruning be only to awaken the sleeping life in me!  May all that is weary and bored be snipped away so that my very best self can arise!  Prune away the dead wood from my life.  Awaken me to my full potential.  Amen.  (62)

Maybe there is something here that speaks to you where you are on your journey. 

Blessings on your journey!


A shell on the beach at Cape San Blas, May 2011.  One of those nature teaching moments for me as I stopped walking to see more closely the work of the Creator's hands at my feet.  The sparkling sand, the shell..... it drew me to itself. 

The Third Desert: The Story of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue

This book, The Third Desert: The Story of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, was written by Fabrice Blée in French and translated into English by William Skudlarek with Mary Grady.  It was one of my required readings for the upcoming session #7 of Academy #32 for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. 

Though it wasn't an easy book to get through, there were many moments in which I found my spirit resonating with the message in it.  I found it to be another book that affirmed some things I have been growing into as well as challenging me into taking further steps of growth in the journey. 

An underlying premise to dialogue is listening.  And, in order to listen to the other, we must first be able to listen to ourselves and our Creator.  This requires making the time for solitude. 

Though the book focuses on the topic of monastic dialogue with one another, it does often show the need for this dialogue within the entire Kingdom and by example, shows that it can be done with "the other". 

As I read the book, I thought back to a paper I wrote a few years ago in seminary that discussed the open doors of some churches to the Muslim faith community needing a place to worship.  These communities had entered into dialogue with one another.  The research and writing of that paper was stretching for me and a marker in my journey.  I saw some wonderful examples of hospitality and dialogue, things which I have just read again in The Third Desert.

Here are some of the nuggets I gathered from this book:
  • "...the more one enters deeply into one's own religion the more one is able to go to the heart of other religious traditions." (19)
  • "...dialogue was necessary to counter mutual ignorance and the prejudices that were still too often present among the spiritual practitioners of different religions." (63)
  • "It [entering into dialogue] involves making one's way toward the unknown and being willing to call everything into question.  But it also involves rediscovering oneself as a God-seeker and it offers the possibility of opening new horizons and moving beyond illusory certitudes and well-established routines." (73)
  • "It is not enough to make experiences happen; they have to be reflected on, and what has been experienced has to be put into words." (123)
  • "Encounter with the other as other is an opportunity, not a danger. The great challenge of our time is to make such encounters part of our spiritual practice." (134)
  • "The more one descends into the depth of one's being, the more one draws near to the source from which all drink.  To live in the presence of the divine reinforces one's awareness of unity with the other and with the entire universe." (140)
  • "Dialogue is spiritual when it invites the partners in dialogue to grow together in the Spirit and to anticipate the "kingdom of God"." (140)
There are many more nuggets that I gleaned from this book-- from the history of the dialogues that the monks have had to truths and examples and insight. 

Though I jokingly referred to this book as The Dry Desert once or twice, it truly took me on a deeper journey that isn't simply head knowledge. 

I look forward to discussing this book with others at the upcoming Academy session.  I also look forward to the opportunity to put into practice what I have learned from this book.

Though I'm unable to attend due to seminary responsibilities, home-life responsibilities and financial constraints, I did learn of a desert pilgrimage that would have been interesting to participate in.  It is an interfaith pilgrimage to the American Southwest: Exploring the Spirit of the Desert, sponsored by Spiritual Directors International.  Check it out at their link here.  A PDF flyer for the pilgrimage is available here for download and/or sharing.

What opportunities do you have to dialogue with "the other"?  Are you willing? 

We can learn and grow from the experience because we will ultimately learn more about ourselves and our own faith background in the process.  It is an important part of the journey.  At least for me it is.  Especially as I seek to love God and love others.  I cannot do the second part if I am not willing to enter into dialogue with them. 

Blessings on your journey,

~Debra ☺