Before I Knew Your Name

It’s been at least 14 years ago.  I remember being at Aunt Nancy’s house and noticing an empty frame on the table that held family pictures.  Why would you have an empty frame in the midst of pictures of children, grandchildren and other family members?

Then I noticed a sign on the frame that indicated that this frame would one day hold the picture of the child that her daughter (my cousin), Jennifer, would adopt.  Aunt Nancy didn’t know the child’s name, yet she hoped and believed that one day she would see the face of the child for whom she prayed.  One day she would know his or her name.

And indeed, one day Jennifer flew to Guatemala and welcomed her baby Joshua into her arms.  Soon Aunt Nancy would have a picture for that empty frame.

I too have been praying for someone for a very long time.  I didn’t have an empty frame in our house.  I didn’t know her name.  I just prayed for the person who might one day be my daughter-in-law.  And now I know her name:  Angel.

On Saturday, November 9, Will and Angel will stand before God, family and friends and commit their lives to one another in the covenant of holy marriage.

Angel came into our lives about this time of the year 2 years ago.  Well, she came into Will’s life a few months earlier, but he didn’t tell us.  When I found out that he was dating someone, I tried to get a name from him . . . a little information.  But, in true Will Archer style, I got nothing.  (He can keep a secret like no other.)   When I asked him to tell me about her, he said “No, Mom.  I know you.  You will google her!”  True.

Then we were invited to a friend’s wedding and Will invited Angel to go with him.  “Ok, Will, you can’t introduce the “world” to Angel, and I haven’t met her!”  So, he granted my plea and we met the “mystery woman” for dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse.  We could see that Will was smitten and very quickly so were Noah and I.

I give thanks for the love that I see between Angel and Will . . . for the looks of love and care between them . . . for the laughter, for the joy and most of all, for the abiding faith in Jesus that the two of them share.  I’ve married many couples in 21 years of ordained ministry and my consistent word in premarital counseling is the power of Jesus’ presence in marriages.  My prayer is that Will and Angel will always know the power of God’s love and strength during the good times and the not-so-good times.

Today I know the name of the one for whom I’ve prayed:  Angel.  She is a beautiful woman of God who loves our son and is deeply loved by him and by Noah and me.

Thanks be to God!

Oh, by the way, Angel’s photo is framed along with all of the other family members.

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”                      – Psalm 139:13-16

Furniture with Memory

Sometimes bedroom furniture is more than furniture.

Recently Noah and I gave an old bedroom suit to some friends whose home was flooded by Hurricane Florence.   We were happy to share with them!

The night before the move, I cleaned out the last of the stuff in the dresser drawers and dusted off the top.  As I did so, the memories poured into my mind.  You see, this was my childhood bedroom suit.   I don’t remember sleeping in any other bed as a child.

I thought about . . .

. . . the nights as a child that I would call out to Mama or Daddy to come cover me up.  I was too scared to move.  I don’t know why!  Maybe I thought the monster under the bed would know I was awake and come after me.  After all, you never let your hand or arm hang off the bed low enough for the monster to see it.

. . . the childhood and then later teenage sleepovers with Elizabeth, my best friend

. . . the many hours of conversations between Elizabeth, Mary Lou and me about all those things that teenage girls talk about

. . . the carving found on the top of the dresser – “P + T” – (Patricia + Tommy, 5th or 6th grade boyfriend).  Rather sure my brother carved those initials that are still visible on the dresser.

. . . the various apartments and homes that have housed that bed and dresser – Norlina (2), Chapel Hill (6), Durham (2), Natchez, Wilmington (2) – twelve different places if I’m remembering correctly

. . . and maybe because Will is about to get married, I remembered lying in that bed in the little upstairs bedroom in our Natchez home on the night before he was born, having contractions but not wanting to wake Noah yet who was sleeping peacefully downstairs.  Well, I don’t know if he was peacefully sleeping.  He was probably feeling the vibes that I was putting out because of the pain!

These are memories that I haven’t thought of in YEARS!  I wasn’t having second thoughts about giving the furniture away.  I was just amazed at the memories that the furniture opened in me.

Isn’t it amazing how objects or places open us up to new thoughts?  Recently I began meeting with a spiritual director and even though we’ve only met twice, I am already seeing the power of centering prayer, of pondering spiritual questions, and of thinking about God’s movement in my life. We’ve talked about the power of “place” to bring us closer to God – to open us up to new thoughts.  So often I find the noise of life – both literally and figuratively – leaves me closed, unaware or unavailable to receive or hear God’s voice or God’s movement.

Yet, sometimes, when I sit at my desk – my place – something opens in me and I hear a new word.  A Scripture verse that I’ve read dozens of times is read with new eyes.  A bird sitting outside the window sings a song that I actually hear on this day.  Maybe just for a few moments there’s an openness for God’s voice and movement.

It makes me wonder what I need to do to stay open to the nudge and voice of Christ continually.

Maybe it’s just stopping.  Maybe it’s just remembering. 

Maybe it’s just going to my place. 

*************************

Epilogue:  On Saturday morning, my friend came with her daughter and a few other family members.  Any possible doubt that I might have had in the deep places of my brain was completely gone when I saw how excited her daughter was at having this bedroom furniture.  She was so thrilled to have a BED!  She had been sleeping on a couch for over a year and now she had a place to call her own.

The story got even better when I received the 2 pictures of the furniture actually in her bedroom.  I hope Samantha and her cousin will make even more memories that will lodge in their minds to be opened 50 years later.

 

 

What If?

Today we are waiting for hurricane Dorian.  Someone on Facebook said that “waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.”  Yep!

Like many in Wilmington, we are stocked with water, flashlights, batteries, Oreos, Chips Ahoy and a little patience.  We have all devices charged and have a generator in the garage that was never taken out of the box last year.  By the time we were able to get home after Florence, our electricity was back on.  We bought the generator as we journeyed home from Winston-Salem because we might need it.  What if we don’t have electricity when we get home?

It seems that life before a hurricane is filled with “what ifs?”  We fill up our cars with gas prior to a storm because what if the gas pumps don’t work after the storm and we need to go somewhere?  We clear off the deck because what if the wind picks up the table and crashes it into the sliding glass door?  Yet experience tells us that these are good responses to the what if question.

The what if? question goes beyond a hurricane.  It’s really the question that is repeated over and over throughout life.

What if my decision is the wrong one?

            What if the job doesn’t work out?

            What if the lump is malignant?

            What if they find out exactly who I am?

            What if they find out what I’ve done?

Most often it’s the question that is rooted in fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of others, fear of the lack of control.

Yet – suppose – what if? – we centered our lives in God’s what if question.

God asks:

                        What if you believe me?

                        What if you trust me?

                        What if you let go and quit hanging on so tight?

                        What if you forgive?

                        What if you ask me to help you?

Maybe the answer to the what if question is to remember.  Over and over, God instructed his people to remember.

“Remember the days of old . . . who brought you up out of the sea . . . who put His spirit within you . . . who divided the waters before you . . . who led you through the depths?  Like cattle that go down into the valley, the spirit of the Lord gave them rest.”  – Isaiah 63:11-14

Instead of asking myself the what if question rooted in fear, I pray to ask the what if question rooted in God’s amazing love.

Francois Fenelon writes: “Oh, how much better are we sustained by love than by fear!  Fear enslaves, constrains and troubles us; but love persuades, consoles, animates us; possesses our whole soul, and makes us desire goodness for its own sake.” * 

What if I believe you, O God?  What if I trust you, O Lord?   May it be so.

*********************************

Prayer Request –

I invite you to join me in prayer and support for all of those who are suffering and have lost so much in the hurricane, especially those in the Bahamas.  Also be in prayer for first responders and those who offer assistance to so many.

*********************************

*Quote from Selections from the Writings of Francois Fenelon, found in A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God © 2013, p. 320.

Pieces on the Path

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles.

I love the challenge of figuring out how all of the pieces fit together to create the picture on the box.  I enjoy the sorting and the arranging.  Most of all, I enjoy that sense of accomplishment when the final piece is put into place and the picture is complete.

I enjoy the puzzle that comes in the box.  However, it’s the puzzle from my iPad app that is more convenient – no pieces to fall on the floor or be eaten by Hank, the dog.  It is no fun to be almost done with a puzzle and realize that there’s a piece that is half-chewed or completely missing.

Usually when Noah and I are watching tv, you will find me also working on a puzzle.  (I think it drives Noah a little crazy that I’m doing several things at once, but why do one thing when you could do two?  Unfortunately, my puzzle work prevents watching any show with sub-titles. Smile.)

Whether it’s a puzzle from a box or a puzzle on the iPad, my usual reaction to beginning a puzzle is:  this is going to take forever!  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason in the pieces.  They are just a jumble of colors of all sorts.  They look nothing like the picture of the finished puzzle.  However, gradually it comes together.

My plan of puzzle solving:

  • First put together all of the edges to make the frame.
  • Sort the pieces by color.
  • Look for commonalities.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Look at the shapes of the pieces.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Try a piece.  If it doesn’t work, try another piece.
  • Refer to the picture.
  • Put pieces together in smaller portions.

Piece by piece, color by color – the picture is revealed!

It’s making choices, looking at the whole, being patient, not giving up, looking for common threads – piece by piece, it comes together.

We might even call it discernment.

The word discernment comes from the Latin word “discernere” which means ‘to separate’, ‘to distinguish’.  Reminds me of a puzzle.

In their book, The Way of Discernment, Stephen Doughty and Marjorie Thompson, write:

The word, ‘discernment’, denotes an activity or process. It suggests that when we yearn to find what is right and fitting, there will be a means to do so. On the most elemental level, to discern is to sort and sift through the possibilities when we face a variety of choices. It is to distinguish and separate alternatives. . . From beyond ourselves we begin to hear, ‘Look, there is a way you can follow that leads toward greater understanding. There are steps you can take that will open you to the clarity you seek.’ We stand before the forest of our own wonderings. Then bit by bit, we become aware of a path through the forest.

In discernment, like a puzzle, we see a jumble of possibilities – some good and some not so good.  We sort. We arrange. We look for common threads.  We look at the picture. In discernment, the picture is God’s preferred picture.

Bishop Rueben Job writes “practicing a preference for God and God’s will is the place to begin . . . Begin practicing a preference for God and you will discover a growing capacity to receive and respond to God’s direction of your life.”

It’s sorting, arranging, and choosing the next piece, all with a prayerful spirit, that reveals the path in the midst of the jumble.

**************************

Dougthy, S.V. and Thompson, M.J. The Way of Discernment. Participants Book. Nashville:  TN:  The Upper Room Books, 2003.

Job, R. P. A Guide to Prayer.  Nashville, TN:  The Upper Room Books, 2013.

Choosing Words

“I don’t like myself when . . .”

Some will read this statement and say:

“Trish, this is not a very positive way to start out a blog!”

“Trish, why don’t you like yourself?”

“Trish, you teach appreciative inquiry and this is NOT an appreciative statement.”

Well, that’s true and that’s why I’m writing it. It’s NOT a statement that should be my focus and thus, I have the opportunity to change this reality.

We get more of what we focus on.

I returned home yesterday after four days at St. Francis Springs Prayer Center helping to facilitate coach training with ministry colleagues from Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia. We’ve been working together since last fall (as Hurricane Florence was approaching – yikes!), meeting each month in online learning and this week concluding our training time. Every day we spent time reviewing theories, practicing coaching and reflecting on what we were learning together. We started and ended each day in theological reflection and prayer, drawing upon words that have guided our training together. Listen. Be filled. Love. Prepare. Learn. Conspire. Trust.

For sometime, I have had some angst in my soul. I couldn’t put words to the way I was feeling. It has just been there. This feeling that something was just not right. Someone looking onto my life would say: “What?!? You have a wonderful loving husband, son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.” Yes, all that is very true. I am blessed beyond measure! Yet, inside . . . angst in my soul.

The word “authenticity” has been swirling in me. Authenticity in life, in practice and in faith. Does this word describe who I am?

On Tuesday morning of the retreat, my colleague was sharing in our morning devotional time and said, “I don’t like myself when . . .” That phrase just stopped me in my thought tracks. I really don’t remember what was being said before that statement or what was said after the statement (sorry, coaching friends!). It was a moment of understanding that became clearer as I reflected with my practice coach. I don’t like myself when I am inauthentic, when I’m fake, when I’m not true to my convictions and my desire to follow God’s leading. I don’t like myself when I focus on the negative, when I’m judgmental, when I expect things of others that I’m not willing to do myself, when I’m filled with resentment . . . I could continue for a while with these statements.

So . . . I can continue in this place or I can choose other words and actions to define who I am – who God says that I am.

I am choosing new words.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote the statement: “I choose to rejoice in You, Lord!” as my prayer for the year. I have not done a very good job. I have not done a lot of rejoicing. Sure, I can blame lots of circumstances, other people, the denomination, politics – again, the list could go on. YET, in the midst of this I have choices to make. What is my focus? I get more of what I focus on.

Friends, I’m choosing joy. Joy does not mean that I will be happy all of the time. That’s not joy. Joy means that in the midst of the junk of life, I can choose to be authentic, I can choose to be true to God’s leading, I can choose to be thankful, I can choose people and circumstances that bring joy to me. Yes, there will be circumstances and people who will “try me” (as a child, I heard this phrase when I was getting on my mom’s last nerve!), yet I have choices in my response.

I choose to rejoice in You, Lord!

 

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”                                 Matthew 16:26 NLT

Why I’m Pruning Social Media

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It can be a source of joy – celebrating the birth of a new baby, wishing a friend happy birthday, enjoying wedding pictures, enjoying my own family and our celebrations . . . endless possibilities. It can also be a place of connection to friends and family so that I can pray with someone in their loss or pray for someone in their sickness.

Social media can also be a source of unrest, anxiety, hurt and mistrust. The stories that appear and worse yet, the comments that are written do not create peace in my soul. And my friends, I need peace in my soul. The anxiety-provoking subjects of social media are diverse – politics, the UMC, how someone parents, the latest crime story . . . again, endless topics.

For several weeks, I’ve been thinking about my need to stop social media in my life, at least for a season. Last year during Lent, I stopped Facebook and made it through without this source of information. This year I’ve decided to stop Facebook and Twitter starting now through the season of Lent. When Easter comes, I’ll evaluate the decision.

The reasons for stopping? Here’s the top two:

1) Removal of social media is a spiritual discipline, freeing my time so that I might utilize it in a more life-giving ways.

2) Social media is just not good for my brain and my soul. Yes, there are some examples of stories and comments that touch my heart and mind. However, most of what I read on social media causes me to be angry, sad, anxious and wondering “WHAT?” If I read the comments under the stories, the feelings intensify.

Two weeks from today, I will head to General Conference of the United Methodist Church to be part of a vote that has implications for all God’s people. I want to spend my preparation time in ways that uplift me. Social media doesn’t do that for me right now.

So I’m pruning social media.

This past Christmas, a friend gave me a thought-provoking little book called The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting and Abundance by Judith Sutera. The author uses the experience of tending the vineyard to share spiritual lessons learned in her work.

Sutera writes:

“We practice sacrifice so that our spiritual lives can be more fruitful . . . The world will not become peaceful for us; we have to find our interior peace within the world. The irony is that this peace comes not from having things go more our way but from cutting away at what is disturbing from inside us . . .We will not wake up someday and find everyone around us lovable, but we can prune away our impatience and intolerance, our bad habits and behaviors, and practice the discipline of love. . . . We are what we think about. If we let go of what is not spiritual, we will be slowly but surely transformed. When an elderly sister was asked the secret of her apparent calm and happiness, she replied, “It started when I realized I didn’t have to have an opinion about everything.” (pages 72, 73, 74)

My prayer and my desire is to be a person of peace and calm, a non-anxious presence in a world that is swirling with anxiety, a person that doesn’t have to have an opinion about everything.

May it be so, Lord, may it be so.

**********************************

P.S. One more comment on social media – When reading anything on social media, please, please, please check the source. There’s a difference between facts and a sound bite. For all of you who are United Methodist folks, this will especially be true now and in the coming weeks.

***********************************

Sutera, Judith. The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual Lessons in Pruning, Waiting, Harvesting & Abundance. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014.

A Younger Me

“What would I say to a younger me?”

What a thought-provoking question! and what a question to be asked immediately before the start of a worship service in which you are the guest preacher.

Recently I had the opportunity to preach the Homecoming service in a United Methodist Church in the area. Prior to the service, I walked around the sanctuary and met a few folks already seated, waiting for the service to begin.  Ted, an older gentleman and Dylan, a younger man were seated on the second row. My first thought? – grandfather and grandson. How special for them to be in church together!

No – not the case. Dylan was a visitor from South Florida who was in the area working with FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Dylan and his dad, another FEMA worker, were staying in the bed and breakfast owned by Ted and his wife. We exchanged greetings and I went back to my seat.

A few minutes before the service started, Dylan came over to my seat and began to talk some more. Then he said: “I’ve asked Ted this question and I wanted to get your thoughts as well. What would you say to a ‘younger you’? What would you say to me – a young man who is seeking God and trying to build a relationship with God?”

Ok, Trish, answer that in the 2 minutes before the prelude starts!

My words to Dylan?  “Don’t limit God.  Follow God’s imagination for you”

This was actually the point of my sermon for the day using my favorite scripture:

“Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” – Ephesians 3:20

“Imagine all that God might have for you – far more than all!”

Dylan’s question has stayed with me since that service. What advice would I give to a younger me?  What words might encourage or guide me, especially in my relationship with Christ?

As I wrote this blog, I remembered that I asked a retired pastor a similar question in my first Duke field education experience. “Rev. Culbreth, what would you say to a clergyperson just starting out in ministry?”  His words have stuck with me for 27 years: “Love the people. If you can’t love the people, you need to get out.”

[It’s funny how words stay with you. Words that can guide and encourage or words that can hurt and destroy.   That’s a blog post for another day.]

What would you say to a younger you?

What word of advice, challenge, affirmation, or encouragement would you give to a younger you?

Tell me.

 

“Dear younger me, I cannot decide.

Do I give some speech about how

to get the most of your life? 

Or do I go deep

And try to change

The choices that you’ll make

‘cause they’re choices

that made me.”

Lyrics from the song, Dear Younger Me, by Mercy Me © 2014