Could Not He . . .?

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

This question leapt out to me in my time of reading this morning.  A question of why couldn’t Jesus heal Lazarus?  We just saw him heal the man born blind in John 9.  Why didn’t Jesus do a long-distance prayer to Bethany and heal Lazarus before he died?

But that’s not what happened.  Lazarus does die.  People don’t understand.

The question of “could not he who . . .” struck me this morning because my guess is some folks might be saying “could not God who resurrected Jesus from the grave stop this COVID-19 pandemic?”

The short answer is yes.  The longer answer . . . for me is much more complicated and yet very simple.

My thought (and this is my thought.  If you disagree with my thought, that’s your thought):

The longer answer for me:

God sometimes does that instantaneous healing miracle.  One word and the healing happens.   Evidence in scripture – evidence throughout history.

My experience is that God calls us to “participate in our healing”.  We take the medicine.  We practice good health habits.  We practice social-distancing or maybe a better word “physical-distancing”. *   We wash our hands.  We think of others when we are shopping for bread or sugar or gracious, toilet paper!

None of us have been through what we are going through right now.  I’ve said several times this week that I feel like I’m going to wake up and it’s going to have been a dream.

But we are awake.

We are living through a time like never before.  I would not be telling you the truth if I didn’t say it makes me uneasy – to say the least.  Every time I see the news or an alert comes across my phone or my watch, I feel that uneasiness.  Every time I watch the stock market descend or the emails come to say my favorite stores are closing temporarily, I feel that uneasiness.  Then I remember that there are people – my friends, my family, my favorite server – who are touched by the latest alert.

It became very real in one simple action this week when my husband shaved off his beard that had been there for a LONG time so that he would have a good seal on his mask when he worked at the drive-through respiratory clinic (for people with concerning symptoms).  That’s real, folks.

Yes, I believe that Jesus can and does heal AND I believe that He calls us to be part of the healing for ourselves and for others.

So, what do we do?

  • We remember what we already know. The God who journeyed with his people in the desert for 40 years is the same God who journeys with us now.
  • We hold on to the faith that sustains us in the midst of all of life.
  • We hold on to the love that says, “nothing will separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.”
  • We pray – for all, particularly for every medical profession you know and those you don’t know. They are doing the very best that they can in the midst of an ever-changing landscape of health information.
  • We hold on to each other. Be comfort to one another.  Be the person who calls someone else to say I’m praying for you.
  • And my clergy friends, know that you are not alone as you figure out what to do. Support one another and know that I am praying for you.
  • And congregations, pray for your pastor. She or he is taking care of you AND they have family and friends who need them.

So back to the initial question of “could not he who . . .?

If you read on in John 11, Jesus does heal Lazarus.  He is resurrected.

Jesus says, “take away the stone” and people move the stone

(even though Martha reminds Jesus how much this will smell).

Jesus asks the question, “did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus commands “Lazarus, come out!”

Jesus tells others “unbind him and let him go.”

This healing involved Jesus, Lazarus and the others.  Jesus commanded, Lazarus obeyed, and others participated.

May it be so for all of us.

 

*”Don’t call it ‘social distancing’  – opinion article by Menjivar, Foster and Brand.  CNN, 3/21/20.

 

 

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.

 

 

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

Making a Home

I love HGTV.

From finding the perfect house in a small town to the selection of a private island for those secluded vacations, HGTV has it all. City dwellers can find the cabin in the woods that takes them out of the mad urban rush. Winners of the lottery can find their dream mansion. Don’t forget those who seek to downsize their lifestyle as they move into the tiny house that gives them the simplicity that they crave.

My favorite of HGTV? Fixer Upper!  For five seasons, I watched Chip and Joanna take the “worst house in the neighborhood” and turn it into a beautiful home with the touch of the homeowners’ personality and charm.  Did anyone else cry at the last “Fixer Upper” episode?

I loved watching drab, vine-covered, over-grown-with-bushes homes be turned into the dream home for the new owners. Cottages, ranch houses, and 2-story 100 year old houses that were close to falling down saw new possibilities as Chip and Joanna worked their magic. Often I thought: “I wonder what they could do for my house that could use a little “fixer-uppering”!”

Often as future homeowners decided on a house, you’d hear:

“I can see our family in this place.”

“I can see our children playing in the yard.”

“It feels like home.”

It feels like home – the place to settle in and build a life together.  Noah, Will and I have lived in 2 houses in our life together. (Yes, there were a few transitional apartments.) Our first home in Natchez was a 1940’s bungalow, The Radcliffe House – the home into which Noah and I brought our newborn almost 24 years ago. We watched him take his first steps there, enjoy his first Christmas celebration there, and his first and second birthday parties. One day it was time to pack up the boxes and head north.

Will doesn’t remember too much about that first house. He just knows that he lived in the house on Linton Avenue, now with a bright red door. When Will was two and half, we unpacked our boxes in a two-story 1970’s house. (I think we are almost unpacked – only a few boxes left in the back shed that never made their way inside.)

When Noah and I made the decision to buy both of these houses, I distinctly remember those exact words from Fixer Upper in my own heart and mind, maybe spoken aloud:

“I can see our family in this place.”

“I can see our children playing in the yard.”

“It feels like home.”

It IS home. It’s now twenty-one years in this 2-story home – memories in each room, changes in paint, a new deck, some different flooring and much that has stayed the same. It’s home. It’s where we’ve taken a house built by someone else and made it into a home for the Archers.

I don’t know if we will stay in this home forever. A downstairs master bedroom sure would be nice as we get older. Will lives across town in his own place now but it’s still home for him. As a matter of fact, when any mention of a new place comes into the conversation, there’s a response from the youngest Archer: “You’re going to sell my childhood home?!?” Uh, maybe one day. Sorry, son!

Homes don’t just happen. There are lots of houses on the market. New, old, fixer-uppers . . . all for the showing and purchase. But it’s the personality, the charm, the memories, the settling in that makes a house a home.

As has been my usual practice for the past 5 years, I choose a sentence prayer as my “breath prayer” for the year. My 2018 prayer is “I choose to abide in You, O Lord.” Abide . . . remain, make my home in, dwell, settle down, reside . . . in You, O Lord.

“Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” – John 15:4

This is true home.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book on spiritual formation: “As Jesus travels with us in life, he teaches us how to return to the house of love. . . He never stops telling us where to make our true home, what to look for, and how to live.” *

Living in the love of God – the home of grace and love found in Christ – this is where we can really say: it feels like home. It IS home.

As you look for a place to abide this day, may you find your true home in the love of Jesus.

__________________________________

* Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 78.

Photo:  “Daddy’s building” at my childhood home, a place of many memories and love

Changing the Filter

 

 

“Resentment is drinking poison and waiting for the other person to get sick.”

I don’t know who said this originally.  I just know it’s true.  Resentment eats you up on the inside.  It damages relationships.  It puts a filter over everything that you see.  It’s like the filters that you put on your pictures: mono, vivid, silver-tone, dramatic cool or noir.

A bad filter can make a picture worse.

A good filter can take a so-so picture and turn it into something far better than the original.  Take the picture from yesterday’s post.  Add a little “noir” filter with a little more brightness and voilà!  a better picture!

My problem?   I don’t always know how to change the filter.  Sometimes it’s rather easy. Forgive and move on.  Sometimes you can’t do it so fast.  It eats at you and starts to wear you down.  It can make us see every fault, every fallacy, and every action as a deliberate attempt to hurt us.  Resentment can ruin us.

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book on spiritual formation:   “When you cling to your complaints, your heart is full of resentment, and there is no room for God to enter and set you free.  Resentment curtails the movements of the Spirit and diminishes the kingdom within. It replaces faith, hope and charity with fear, doubt, and rivalry.” *

Maybe we change our filter by seeing with the eyes of Jesus.  Maybe it’s every time that I think of _____________ (fill in person, situation, action), I also see the face of Jesus.  Maybe our filter needs to be Jesus beside, behind, in front of ________________.

Maybe everything we see needs to be in the filter of “grace and forgiveness of God”.

It might be hard to change the filter all at once – forever.  Maybe it’s every day to change the filter just a little more in the light of the grace of God.

I may not be able to change _______________ (fill in the blank) but I can ask God to change me.

Change my filter, O God. Help me see with Your eyes of grace and forgiveness. Amen.

 _______________________

* Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 59.

A Simple Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. *

A simple prayer – a prayer that has been spoken by thousands of people . . .

  • an alcoholic seeking the strength to resist the urge to drink
  • a couple who doesn’t know how they can make their marriage work
  • an addict who tries to decide between buying food for their family and drugs for their cravings
  • a mom who is fighting the urge to “fix” the problem, enabling her loved one yet again
  • me in the midst of the everyday

It’s a prayer said hundreds of times at Celebrate Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholic Anonymous, Al-Anon and other 12-step meetings.

It’s a prayer of acceptance, peace, courage and wisdom.

I remember seeing this prayer stitched on a needlepoint in my grandmother Louise’s house. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if she stitched it or if it was a gift. I don’t know what it meant to her. I didn’t know what it meant to me when I was child.

It’s a prayer that I see carved on this cross every time I sit at my desk to work, write, read or pray.

I pray this prayer regularly – sometimes in haste, sometimes in moments of indecision and sometimes in the throes of resentment.

What does it mean to pray: “serenity to accept the things I cannot change”?   It’s a prayer for peace, knowing that I can do nothing to change the situation that is before me.  It’s not my situation to change.  I can’t make anyone “feel” differently.  A person’s emotions belong to that person. As much as I want someone to be _________ (fill in the emotion), I cannot make anyone feel any particular way.  I have no control over that.

What does it mean to pray: “courage to change the things I can”?  It’s a prayer to stop saying “I can’t do anything about that!” It’s a prayer to stop making excuses . . . a prayer to quit letting anger fester into resentment.  Just this morning I read this powerful line from Henri Nouwen:  “When we swallow our angry feelings and do not make them known, resentment settles in.” **   When we don’t try to change something that we DO have control over, it bottles up, sinks deep into the pit of our hearts and at some point comes pouring out, usually in a way that is certainly not peaceful or serene.

What does it mean to pray: “the wisdom to know the difference”?   For me, here’s the real point of contention – the crux of the prayer.  How do I know if I should accept or if I should seek to change?  Is this really my problem?  Is this my responsibility?  What’s MY part in the situation before me?

To understand the difference,  I need a moment to think, really think – to pray, really pray – for clarity.  Sometimes that clarity comes easily.  Sometimes that clarity is harder to see.  Sometimes I need someone to help – a friend, a confidant, a sponsor, a coach or a spouse. Most often, it’s my husband, Noah. (Thank you to Noah and all of the people who’ve helped me figure it out.)

It is a simple prayer . . . a prayer drawing me to the Source of strength, courage, peace and hope . . . over and over again.

__________________________________

*The Serenity Prayer is most commonly attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).

* * Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Harper One, Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird, 2010, p. 59.