Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviewing 2019

Pentecost 2019, me and the retired guy :)
New Year's Eve is a time that allows us to think back over the past year and look forward to the new one.  As I reflect back on 2019, there were lots of celebrations and transitions, new beginnings and adventures.

In the beginning of 2019 I launched the FB page for Bamboo Encounter, preparing for the first service to be held in May.  Bamboo Encounter meets the 4th Saturday of every month and has been a great addition to 2019.

I went to Blue Ridge in February for a girls weekend, though for me it was a one-nighter.  I did my first hike since my hip replacement the previous June and that was a big accomplishment for me.

For Ash Wednesday, I participated with a colleague in doing Ashes to Go / Cenizas para el camino at a local market in Spanish.  That was neat to be able to do.

In March, Riley and I went on our first cruise and celebrated 15 years together.  The cruise was with a childhood friend and her husband, who were celebrating 30 years.  The cruise and the trips were a fun adventure.  We visited Hell in Grand Cayman, a highlight for this pastor. :)

In May, our son Charlie graduated from high school, having earned the John Philip Sousa award in band.  Graduation was a special time marked with family.

During the summer we went to Sinsinawa, Wisconsin for a Wild Church Network retreat/conference.  It was the first of its kind.  It was wonderful for me to meet others connected to the Wild Church Network and to catch up with 2 folks I knew from FUMSDRL/HOF (Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders/Hearts on Fire).

At Annual Conference in June, I was officially appointed to my 2nd appointment, St. Elmo UMC, which I began officially on July 7th, having done a soft start a little earlier to get my feet wet.

I participated in the Honeybee Metric Ride again this past year as a honeybee at a rest stop.  It was my 3rd year to be a honeybee.  I enjoy getting to cheer on the riders.

I went to the Wild Goose Festival for the first time during the summer and gave out hugs as part of the Mama Bear Den and Free Mom Hugs.  I attended some sessions and met lots of great people.  I got fairy hair from "Spark the Fairy" booth on the last day, July 14 and I still have a few pieces of fairy hair left over.  That has been a super conversation starter as folks wonder what the blue things are in my hair. :)

I attended ELMC 2019, a Hispanic training offered by the Episcopal Church at Sewanee in August.  It was a great CEU opportunity, as well as getting to meet like-minded folks who were part of the program.  A highlight was visited El Refugio at Stewart Detention center.  I chose El Refugio as my birthday fund raiser and was able to raise over $500 for them, thanks to friends and church folks.

Charlie began his freshman year at Watkins College in August, right before I headed to Sewanee.  With Charlie at college, we were now empty-nesters, though we still had Cliff.

Charlie had a super first semester at school and I made it through my first semester with him away. :)  A highlight was the Friday we took Cliff to Nashville to visit Charlie and we went to a great dog park.

2019 brought other transitions for me.  I had thought that transitioning from 3 churches and 3 communities to 1 church and 1 community would allow me to slow down a little.  I was wrong.  I haven't slowed down.  I've been pretty busy.  But it has been a good busy.  I'm still getting to know people and the community in which I serve.  I have a long way to go, but having listening sessions early on in the appointment helped. 

I used to post my sermons weekly in my first appointment, but I haven't had as much writing space, though I do post the audio weekly.  I haven't had much time for writing, period.  It takes time and energy and much of my time for writing has been sermon writing. 

Getting outdoors and into creation gives me life.  We learned of a new labyrinth that is part of the Lookout Mountain Conservancy.  That was a neat find.

Being at St. Elmo UMC these past 6 months has been life-giving.  A few of the activities that have been meaningful to me are: getting to participate in a Blessing of the Animals, giving out hugs at the Pride Festival, hosting a UMCNext conversation space at church, serving a Thanksgiving meal and giving out clothes, participating in the Cantata as the narrator, and experiencing my first Christmas Eve Candlelight service.

In the fall I applied to a spiritual direction program and was accepted.  That begins in the fall of 2020. 

As I reflect, I know I am leaving some things out (there were LOTS of things that happened this past year, like getting to visit my cousins Frank and Jonathan in Blue Ridge one day in the Spring, meeting Steve Austin and his family in Birmingham and then them coming here to Chattanooga, ETC.) 

Riley's first full year of retirement went by quickly.  Who knew that life outside of work would be so busy?!?!

I am grateful for all the connections and support, near and far, that have been part of my 2019.  From church folks, family, friends, book club, colleagues, fellow Mama Bears, etc.  THANK YOU for being part of my 2019.

I look forward to new adventures in 2020 in life and ministry.  I know there are more changes and transitions ahead.  I don't know what all the adventures or changes will be, but I hope to continue to "roll with it" as I've learned on Sunday mornings. 

My summer word was "wild" because of Wild Church Network and Wild Goose.  Things have been wild in some ways, but a very good wild.

I haven't picked a word for 2020 nor do I have any set goals yet. 

My plan is to live in the present, to walk with folks, to live, love, and lead like Jesus.

Peace on the adventures of 2020,


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bamboo Encounter-- December 28th

Today was the 8th meeting and the final meeting of 2019 of Bamboo Encounter, an outdoor worship service that is part of the Wild Church Network.  We had 11 people in the bamboo today, 3 of those were from out of town (2 from CA and 1 from KY-- all 3 with local ties).  Some of the regular folks were out of town and/or unable to attend.  For a Saturday during the holidays, it was a good-sized group of folks to hang out with in the bamboo.  The weather was warm for December.  No rain, though there were some clouds.  The sun did come out at some point.  There was a breeze today, so we were able to listen to the leaves blow and hear the bamboo clack a little.

The sharing time is always encouraging as different people share what's on their hearts and minds, reflecting on the readings or sharing what came to mind during the silence.  That always adds to our time.

Every Saturday, a quote is shared on the Bamboo Encounter FaceBook page.  Today's quote was by Katrina Mayer: "Time spent amongst trees is never wasted time."

That is how I feel about the time in the bamboo each month.  It is never wasted time for me as I enter into the bamboo.  I come out of my time in the bamboo more relaxed and more at peace than I went in.  Always.  I know that part of it is the physiological aspect of being covered by the trees.  Another part is the making time to slow down, to breathe, to be silent, to listen.

Below is the service for today, along with an additional reading from Ram Dass that came up during our sharing time after the silent reflection time.

Opening prayer (unison):

Let there be
respect for the earth
peace for its people
love in our lives
delight in the good
forgiveness for past wrongs
and from now on a new start.

(“The Millennium Resolution”, Churches Together in England, Earth Gospel, page 123)


Psalm 104:3-4
“You ride on the wings of the wind, You make the winds your messengers.”

Quote by Thomas Merton:
“Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.”

Reading:  Mary Oliver “When I Am Among the Trees” [Thirst, page 4)

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
     but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

Communion passage: Matthew 26: 26-28 (MSG)

26-28 During the meal, Jesus took and blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples:
Take, eat.          
This is my body.
Taking the cup and thanking God, he gave it to them:
Drink this, all of you.
This is my blood,
God’s new covenant poured out for many people
    for the forgiveness of sins.
Ram Dass quote (shared here because it came up during the sharing time after the silent reflection and someone looked it up to share with us):

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Song:                                  Joy to the World (on this 4th day of Christmas)
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Blessing: from Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation by Sam Hamilton-Poore, p. 92)
                                                                                                                     Based on Hosea 14:7

May you rest beneath God’s shade,
flourish like a garden,
blossom like a vine;
and your soul become as fragrant
as the finest wine.

Additional pictures taken by me and by Joel Tippens (his have credit).

May you enjoy the pictures of the bamboo and the readings from our time outdoors.

Join us on the 4th Saturday of the month, starting in January!


Photo by Joel Tippens

Photo by Joel Tippens

Photo by Joel Tippens

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Advent 4 2019 photos and reflections

Advent 4.  It began with the 4th Sunday and the candle of love (for most churches, though some have different themes).  The words for this last week are: love, anticipation, renew, birth.

The sermon for Advent 4 came from Romans 1:1-7, "Dearly Loved by God".

As I reflect back on the entire Advent season in this final week of Advent, it has been a very active Advent season emotionally and otherwise.  There has been quite a bit of change in my life, personally and professionally.  I continue to learn how to hold space for myself and others, to make time to be still, to wait, to listen.  I knew December would be difficult this year with life changes and it being the first Advent/Christmas in a new appointment.  I wasn't sure if or how I might make it through. I am humbled by the support and love from the flock, from family, friends, colleagues, etc.  It is a beautiful thing to watch the Holy Spirit move and work.  And that is humbling.  I have enjoyed contemplating on the word of the day again this year, as a way to slow down, as a spiritual practice, as a way to listen.

Here are the words for each day, with the reflective questions, along with my photos and reflections.

Today's word is #love. On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we focus on love. As you reflect on this word, what comes to mind? How have you expressed love this Advent season? How has love been expressed to you? #love #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

 Today's Advent word is #love. On this 4th Sunday in Advent, these visual expressions of love help remind me to live love. The ornament from Lenox is one I got several years ago. The plaques with the different love phrases adorned a table this past week for a Christmas banquet. The love décor is displayed in a home that offers love. My heart is full as I have received much love today. May love be my guiding true north, regardless of risk or irrationality (per quote in Almost Christmas). Shalom. #love #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #anticipation. The Advent season is one of waiting. How are you living into the anticipation of the coming of the Christ child? When you reflect on today's word, what comes to mind? #anticipation #adventphoto #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #anticipation. The first leg of the flight home lands shortly. I made Charlie's chex mix (no nuts) first, so I don't contaminate the pan. I have been anticipating this homecoming all week. I am looking forward to family being home, to getting together with the rest of family locally, from CA, and in Dalton. Anticipation is making me wait. #anticipation #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #renew. What would you like to renew this Advent season as it nears the end and the Christmas season is upon us? Or, has anything been renewed in you this Advent season? What comes to mind when you reflect on this word? #renew #adventphoto #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #renew. The Bamboo Encounter began services last May, but I began working on the structure in January and other things sooner. Outdoor worship renews me. This is today's post from Bamboo Encounter as we prepare to finish out 2019 on Saturday.

Today, on this Christmas Eve, I share this blessing: "Rooted and grounded in the Creator's love, entwined in Christ's own life, may you hear the song of the Spirit today in trees and grass, in forest and field, and in the tender stretching of your own heart."
~Sam Hamilton-Poore, Earth Gospel, 150

I look forward to hearing the song of the Spirit in the bamboo at Bamboo Encounter this Saturday for our last meeting of 2019.

Today's word is #birth. Has there been anything birthed in you this Advent season? Have any ideas or new spiritual practices come to life during this time of waiting and reflection? What comes to mind when you reflect on this word? #birth #adventphoto #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #birth. Whether it is life or art or an idea that is birthed, that birth comes after a lengthy time of preparation. Though birth is a beginning, there are many other firsts along the way. This Advent season I am beginning to see the birth of the balloon that flew higher that day upon letting go. #birth #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Merry Christmas from all of us!

May there be peace, hope, joy, and love and lots of adventure in your journey!


Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas Dreams-- reflections from the Cantata

This year's Cantata at St. Elmo UMC was "Christmas Dreams", a collaborative between Joseph M. Martin and Heather Sorenson.  This cantata debuted at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, November 17, 2019 and it was exciting to be able to do the piece locally.  Here is a little about the Cantata:

"Throughout time, God has touched and motivated hearts through dreams and visions. Christmas Dreams visits these moments in scripture and connects the experiences of ancient times with our modern journey of faith, pointing to Christ, in whose birth the hopes, yearnings and dreams of all the world are fulfilled. Using traditional carols, newly composed seasonal selections and thoughtful narration, this rich work delivers a tapestry of sound and emotion."

My role this year was narrator. I practiced my part with the CD as I drove around town and with the score and CD in my office. The music was pretty and the message was uplifting.

However, it wasn't until dress rehearsal last Saturday that the message hit home. I had been listening to the music for a month, yet it didn't register until I heard the choir sing it in person. As I listened to the choir sing in person and as I read the narration in person, it began to build, or rather stir inside me... or both.

Tears came after a song and then I stood up to read the narration. It wasn't going to get any better. The words struck me to the core of what I was living and experiencing.

Here are the lyrics to the song that culminated things for me:

"The Magi's Epiphany"

I gave into the mystery.
I search its vast expanse.
I see the spinning pageantry of heaven's cosmic dance.
And then, I stare in silent wonder, searching for a sign;
and I am left to ponder this miracle design.
And then I see a star come rising, burning with the truth;
my anxious thoughts advising with graceful, golden proof.
I reach to touch its glory, to know its healing light.
I watch it move before me, and rage against the night, rage against the night.
And then I follow where it takes me along a glorious way.
It warms me and redeems me and melts my doubt away.
And then it leads me to a promise, where life has found a place;
where Light and Truth are waiting, where lies the Child of Grace.
Sometimes a light surprises a seeker still today.
A sacred star sill rises within the heart of faith.
And then it calls them to the journey, long and narrow road.
It draws them with its burning, to seek, to find, and know.
And then it leads them to a promise where life has found a place;
where Light and Truth are waiting, where lies the Child of Grace.

Some of the words and phrases that stood out to me from the song were: "mystery", "promise", "Light and Truth", "Child of Grace", "heart of faith", "journey". Overall, the song resonated within me.

And here is the narration that I could barely make it through:

"In these sacred moments, we have joined our songs and spirits together to recall the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. We have heard the good news, and we are forever changed. We are now free to hope, believe, and become all that we were meant to be. Let us begin the true work of Christmas and dare to dream of a better world, a greater joy, a deeper faith.

Let us celebrate the graceful promises that are ours in Christ Jesus. Let us hold on to the divine hope that pursues us through every challenge of the heart and each illness of the mind and body. Let us rest secure in the grace that brings peace that is beyond all understanding."

And the Scripture with it:

"For no eye has seen, no ear has heard, neither has it entered into the dreams of anyone, the wondrous things that God has prepared for those love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9 Adapted)

Wow. Whew. Woah.

Phrases such as "forever changed", "free to hope", "become all that we were meant to be", "begin the true work of Christmas", "dream of a better world, "greater joy", "deeper faith", "celebrate the graceful promises", "hold on to the divine hope", "through every challenge of the heart", "rest secure in the grace", "peace that is beyond all understanding" were swirling around in my heart, mind, and soul. As a pastor and a parent, there have been many things going on in life that these words touched me. The biggest thing as a parent has been to watch my son's dreams come true and for me to rest in the peace that passes all understanding, trusting God who made me and made him.

I turned to the choir during rehearsal after having sort of made it through that portion and said something to the effect of a son's dreams and a mom's hopes.... it all culminated for me as I heard that Cantata.

Whew. An unexpected pouring out of heart, mind, and soul. The combination of the lyrics of the song and the following narration just reminded me once again of God's love, mystery, promise, etc. and that if and as we journey with God, we experience and unfolding, a deeper faith, hope, and peace.

I was determined to make it through the Cantata without such emotion on Sunday night, even though I couldn't make any promises nor would I quench the Spirit. I was able to hold it together more than at dress rehearsal, likely because I had already let it out. Yet, in the same narration, when I hit the end and the Scripture portion, the emotion was there. That's okay. It was real and it was the Spirit. I have been on quite a journey and it's understandable that emotions are part of it.

Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in me and through me isn't easy. I try to live, lead, and love like Jesus. I try to live authentically and vulnerably, yet guard my heart and not cause others to stumble. Wisdom and discernment are crucial to my daily journey, though I don't always get things right. It's not an easy path, as I'm 'darned if I do and darned if I don't'. Thankfully, there's grace.

I will continue to dream big dreams seek to listen to the One Voice who created me and created all of creation.

I dream for unity in community. I dream for healing, reconciliation, for a place where all means all. I have hope that dreams can come true.

What are your Christmas dreams?

May they come true.



Cantata group photo taken by Candace Esparza

Advent 3 2019 photos and reflections

Advent week 3 is over. Tomorrow begins Advent 4.  It is almost Christmas and the Christmas season. Here is the compilation post of the Advent word for the day and my photos and reflections.  It was a harder week for me.  Even though "joy" was the theme, I resonated with the Isaiah passage from the lectionary (Isaiah 35:1-10) on Sunday in that there is joy on the journey through the wilderness.  You see, there HAS been joy this week on the journey, yet it hasn't always been a bubbly joy, as I shared in Sunday's sermon.  (You can click on the sermon title to listen to Sunday's sermon, "Rejoice With Joy").

The words for Advent 3 were: joy, grace, promise, hospitality, community, journey, mystery.

Today's word is #joy. What brings you joy? When you reflect on today's word, what comes to mind? On this third Sunday of Advent, how will joy be a part of your Advent journey? #joy #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

 This picture depicts #joy to me. Yesterday's rehearsal was full of singing and joy. When you live into who you are created to be, there is joy. It isn't always easy. Joy isn't always bubbly. There are ebbs and flows, times to wait, and times to let go. I am grateful for these months to journey with this one, for the support, for the opportunity. I look forward to tonight's Cantata. #joy #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #grace. How have you experienced grace this Advent season? Or, how/where do you need grace this Advent season? When you reflect on today's word, what comes to mind? #grace #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #grace. Hearts are a symbol of God's grace to me, reminding me that I am loved and beloved. Hearts have become a sacrament, a symbol, that I see in clouds, leaves, trees, food, coffee pods, rocks, etc. #seeaheartshareaheart is a hashtag I started using after reading the book. I get lots of cool hearts sent to me from folks. Once you start seeing them, you can't unsee them. This heart was sent to me today from my son Charlie. He saw it outside Publix in FL and sent it my way. Oh, the never ending grace revealed in love, symbolized by hearts. Grace definitely abounds and is helping this mama's heart be full. Thank you, Carlitos. #grace #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #promise. What promise are you holding to this Advent season? When you reflect on this word, what comes to mind? #promise #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Yesterday's word was #promise. When I was at the Cenacle Retreat center in Houston several years ago for a retreat on compassion, I was nudged outside during reflection time and saw this sign. As I hit my knees, my Creator assured me that I was going to be okay, that Charlie was going to be okay, that we were all going to be okay. The One who created me and created Charlie knew what I needed and promised me all would work out. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but the sign, literally, and that moment was significant. Yesterday, my Creator was faithful in reminding me of the promise that Charlie is going to be okay, that things will work out. I am grateful to a loving Creator who watches me, who carries me, who meets me where I am. #promise #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc
(To read about the sign and names, go here-https://alienadventurejourney.blogspot.com/…/thoughts-about…) 

Today's word is #hospitality. How do you show hospitality during the Advent season? What would be hospitality for you, if you were receiving? When you reflect on this word, what comes to mind? #hospitality #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #hospitality. Last night, this group of folks (plus others who came after the photo) served dinner at the CEMPA Christmas party. It was a fun-filled and joyous time with music, singing, dancing, conversations, photos with Santa, etc. The hospitality of these folks and the entire CEMPA team made last night a success. Hospitality, for me, is opening up space to allow another to be themselves, to create a space of grace that allows the transformational aspects of love and acceptance to exist. #hospitality #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #community. We live in communities. We may work in a different community. We may worship in yet another community. We may refer to a group as a community. What do you think about when you hear the word "community"? Who are the people with whom you have things IN COMMON? How do you depict the word "community" in art or a photo? #community #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

 Today's word is #community. This sign expresses how to effectively live in community for me. We may not always have things in common, but we can respect one another. #community #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #journey. The season of Advent is a journey, a pilgrimage that takes us to the Christ child. What has this journey meant for you this year? How has it been different from other Advents in the past? As you reflect on today's word, what comes to mind? #journey #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #journey. At the end of this day, I reflected on the importance of the journey inward and the journey outward. I heard a song on the radio by R.Carlos Nakai on a native American flute, "Inward Journey". I read a book by Elizabeth O'Connor in 2013. Thoughts from that book are here: http://alienadventurejourney.blogspot.com/2013/02/journey-inward-journey-outward-by.html?m=1. The Advent journey continues. There is waiting, darkness, mystery. There is also peace, hope, joy. The photo is the view leaving the neighborhood tonight. I stopped and soaked in the sight. May the remainder of the Advent journey provide a space of grace to focus on the coming of the Christ child. #journey #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #mystery. How does "mystery" play a role in your Advent and/or your faith journey? What comes to mind when you reflect on this word? How do you respond to mystery? How do you depict this word? #mystery #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

Today's word is #mystery. There is much I don't understand about the Creator. However, I can live into the mystery and trust the One who created me. God with us, Emmanuel. "Father, son, and Holy Spirit mean that the mystery beyond us, the mystery among us, and the mystery within us are all the same mystery." - Frederick Buechner #mystery #adventphoto #advent2019 #saintelmoumc

May the light and love of the Christ child that has come, that is coming, and that is among us even now continue to grow brighter and stronger every day.

Shalom on the journey,