I Love Lists!

I admit it. I love lists. I love making lists. I love crossing things off my list. On my computer and on my google drive are countless lists from days gone by. I came across this list from 2012 that made me smile.

To Do This Year!

 

Clean out master bedroom closet

R’s life insurance

Clean out guest room closet

Clean out cabinets under bathroom sinks

Find solution for office!

Clean out drawers in island

Clean out drawers in coffee table

love your husband

buy him awesome presents

 

Since we no longer live in that same house, you might guess that I have accomplished all those things simply by moving to a new location. Not true. The closets need to be cleaned out again. Rich’s life insurance should be investigated and possibly updated. Our office space needs decluttering and a solution. We no longer have that same island, and the coffee table drawers are full of a variety of surprises. And it is obvious that my husband found my list and added the last two items.

I share this with you to make your smile, and as a reminder that things change and things remain the same. No matter how many lists I make I will always need to clean out a closet or two. No matter what house I place my coffee table in, those drawers are going to need to be cleaned out. If I leave a list out, my beloved husband is going to add his two cents to it. So embrace the new and the old. Make a new list or add on to one that already exists.

As this new year in the church begins on Sunday, remember you are loved more than you know. Go out and share that love with everyone you meet! Be loved and be love! Notice those around you this Advent season, so we may be prepared for the arrival of the Savior in just a few weeks.

Plantation Mint Tea

Plantation Mint Tea

Join me in visiting a hospice patient. She is sitting on her sofa holding a cup of tea. She shared that she was anxious and worried. I encouraged her to hold her tea with both hands and move the cup up closer to her face. I encouraged her to smell the tea and let it calm her. I encouraged her to drink her tea and let it warm her from the inside. She shared that this tea, Plantation Mint, was her favorite.

Today I am drinking this tea in her memory. I’m enjoying the minty smell and flavor. I’m giving thanks for the life of a religious and faithful woman who now is with God and is no longer anxious or worried. I’m enjoying the warmth and calm this tea brings. May you find warmth and calm this day too!

Book Review-Let’s Take the Long Way Home

Let’s Take the Long Way Home
Gail Caldwell

This is the book I wish I had written after my friend died, and I’m sharing this book review on what would have been her 45th birthday. It is a chronicle of grief and friendship. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll be privileged to learn how these two met, how they spent their days together, Caroline’s diagnosis, illness, and death, and how Gail copes with the death of her best friend.

Every time I read this book, I cry. I know what is going to happen. On the very first page, we read, “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything , and then she died and so we shared that too.” I hope you’ll read this book. I hope you’ll read this book with a friend or a book group. I hope reading this book will inspire you to reach out to those you love and tell them how much they mean to you. I hope this book will remind you that death is part of life and even though it is hard, we do not need to fear death. I hope you’ll read this book and encourage other people to read it too.

“The belief that life was hard and often its worst battles were fought in private; it was possible to walk through fear and come out scorched but still breathing” (78).

“It’s taken years for me to understand that dying doesn’t end the story; it transforms it” (123).

“The only education in grief that any of us get is a crash course. Until Caroline died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenchingly realm of sadness and longing that gradually recede. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity” (150).

“I found myself doubting or dismissing the intensity of our friendship, as though I could discard the love and therefore skip the pain. This worked for about twenty minutes, or until I would say to someone we both knew, ‘Oh well, maybe we weren’t that close,’ and the listener would burst out laughing. I started trying to remember all the things I didn’t like about her. There weren’t very many” (153).

“I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder creatures” (182).

These last two quotes remind me of my dear friend, Kristi, who died when she was only 39 and who would have turned 45 today. No longer do I attempt to dismiss or diminish the intensity of our connection, there is no point. And even though she has been dead for 5 1/2 years, I am not over her death. As long as I live, I will be holding on to the memories we made and working to make the world a kinder, more fun, and more eco-friendly place.

Listen and Do-A Sermon on James 1:19-27

James 1: 19-27

 

 

We are called to listen and do. What does it look like for us to be quick to listen and slow to anger and speaking? Can we even imagine that? What would that look like in our world? What would that look like in our country? What would that look like in our state or our community? What would that look like in our homes? These words of James are not pie in the sky visions of how it could be. The writer of James is asking us to live out our faith by putting our faith into action. To listen and to do as a response to God’s love for us. Isn’t that our motivation for all we do? God loved us and everything we do is our response to that love. We listen and we do God’s work in the world.

This last week my husband and I were taking one of our nightly walks and talking about this Scripture and sermon. As I told him my plan, he responded you are going stand up there and talk to everyone about listening. How can you talk at people and tell them to talk less and listen more? He asks an important question for me and for all of us in our daily lives. So I have sprinkled questions throughout this sermon as an attempt to make this sermon more of a dialogue than a monologue. My hope is that we can learn from each other and listen to each other.

Have you ever been listening to the radio and heard a conversation between two people that was so intriguing that you felt no desire to change the station? This happens to me every time I hear a Story Corps interview. “StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, two people-friends, relatives, colleagues, go into a listening booth for an hour of honest conversation. Grandchildren ask grandparents what life was like when they were young. Family members share never revealed secrets. Colleagues share what they admire and can’t stand about their coworkers. It is honest and beautiful conversation. What I love about these conversations is the way the interviewer asks the question and then stops talking and listens. There is quiet time and space for the person to answer. Their website includes questions you can ask one another and directions on how to conduct your own interview. If you are inspired to conduct your own interview, StoryCorps is hosting The Great Thanksgiving Listen where people are invited to record a conversation with a family member or friend when you are gathered around the table later this month. Who would you interview? If you could sit down and listen to someone’s story, whose story would you like to hear?

 

Being quick to listen is hard work. It requires we relax ourselves and put the eight million other things on our mind on hold. When your task is to be quick to listen, you humble yourself, so the speaker is more important than you at this time. Your job is to listen-not listen so you might respond or solve the problem. Simply listen!

 

When we are slow to speak, we pause before speaking. Stop and think, why am I about to speak? Pause and decide if sharing the information is helpful and kind or do I just want to talk? Will I build up another person or tear someone down with what I am about to say? Being slow to speak requires us to bite our tongues, count to 10, or just take a deep breath before we talk. Think- WAIT-Why am I talking? Find an image of slow to speak that helps you pause. I use the picture that hung in every Sunday School I attend of Jesus with the children. Jesus held children on his lap and had them encircling him as he listened to them. He isn’t talking. And I imagine that what they would remember and what I remember from seeing this picture as a child is Jesus has time for me, Jesus welcomes me, and Jesus listens to me. We want to be heard in the same way and we need to listen to others and leave them with this same feeling.

 

Being “slow to anger” encourages us to remember we who are; created in God’s own image, we would do well to remember Psalm 103:8. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” And we who are created in God’s own image are called to be slow to anger because God is slow to anger. Hopefully, reminding ourselves to be slow to anger will allow us more opportunity to be merciful and gracious and to try to abound in God’s steadfast love. I say try because while writing this sermon this week I sent this email to my sister when I was getting angry. “Dear Guy Waiting for His Car to Be Fixed at Sears, Your ringtones and YouTube videos are very loud. Mute your phone before I lose it. Sincerely, Peron Trying to Write a Sermon on Being Slow to Anger. Just one example of how the real life application of living as people who let God’s Word live inside us is difficult. And yet, we are called to listen and do.

 

The first part of this Scripture reminds us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger”. Think for a minute about these three things. Which one is the easiest for you and which one is the hardest? How might you encourage yourself to do the hardest one? “How can we learn to be “quick to listen but slow to speak”? What helps me to deal with anger?

 

On the Working Preaching blog, David Lose shared his thoughts on these verses. He talked about how this Scripture is meant to be lived out in our ordinary lives. We take what we hear in this place on Sunday morning and we put it into action in this place and beyond these walls.

“Which helps orient us to the possibility…that Sunday is not the pinnacle of the Christian week but actually was intended to serve and support our Christian lives the rest of the week. Sunday, that is, is the day we are immersed again in the word, have our sins forgiven, receive guidance and encouragement in our Christian lives, hear again the good news of God’s goodness and mercy, and are called, commissioned, and sent once more into the world to work with God for the health of the people God has put all around us. All of this puts tremendous importance on our daily lives and activities and actually hallows the everyday routines and responsibilities we often take for granted. So perhaps on this day, Working Preacher, we could invite people to write down one place they will be in the coming week where God could use them to listen, to be patient, or to care for those in need.” Think on that point for a minute. What is one place you know you will be this week where you could live our your faith by enacting these words of James?

 

Being doers of the word is how we put our faith into action. It is how we live out the Word implanted within us. Otherwise, as the writer of James tells us, we are like someone who looks in the mirror and as soon as we look away we forget what we saw. Who hasn’t done this or something very similar? The solution is to simply “be where your butt is” as Anne Lamott says. This is another way of saying be where you are and be fully present where you are. When you are looking in the mirror, really look at yourself and remember you are God’s beloved and created in God’s own image. When you are listening to someone, really listen. Whatever you are doing, do it with your whole self-mind, body, and spirit. When you are listening with your whole self, it becomes easier to be “slow to speak, slow to anger”.

 

Our friends at the Taize Community in France share this reflection and questions on this Scripture. “Translated into concrete acts of love, the language of faith can rediscover its power and meaning. Then the words of the Gospel can touch people’s hearts beyond our Churches and can change their lives.” Today’s Scripture ends by saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Who are the “orphans and widows” among us today and how do we care for them?

 

The writer of James urges us to live as those who are loved by God and whose actions reflect that love. We will “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We will listen and do! We will care for those in need because each person is God’s beloved and when we share what we have there is enough for all. We will nurture the Word implanted in us. We will do all of this with the help and by the grace of God. We will listen and do! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go of the Stuff We Love

This week a fixture in my living room for the last 13 years moved on to a new home. I wrote this on Facebook to commemorate the occasion.

After 13 years of faithful service, it is time to say good-bye to my dear friend, the purple sofa! Thanks for being a comfortable place to sit, sleep, watch tv, read and enjoy many a cup of tea! You were sat upon by friends and family and were the site of our first kiss! Although my husband never loved your delightful purple color, I will miss you and fondly remember all the times you were present for life’s important moments!

The act of giving away my lovely sofa made me reflect on all the stuff I have and my attachment to it. Don’t worry! I am not getting rid of everything or encouraging you to do the same. Instead, I am thinking about the season in which things are with us and how we discern when it is time for them to move on or be with someone else.

As you look around your home, what do you see? How long have some of these things been part of your life? What moments have they witnessed? Do they still bring you joy? How is your stuff part of your story?

Creator of All, We are attached to our stuff. We move it. We live with it. We love it. Help us to be thankful for what we have for the time we have it. Help us to be responsible citizens of creation who share with others and do not waste. Help us to pass along what needs to find a new home. God this is hard, holy work and so we ask for your help. Deliver us from our stuff and help us to know when we have enough. Amen.

Feeding of the 5000 Reflection

Recently, I heard someone preach on John 6:1-13. This text is one of the feeding of the 5000 stories and a version of this story is found in all four gospels. I encourage you to read all four versions of this miracle and see what catches your eye. Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:1-13. In this story, Jesus feeds at least 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish and when everyone had eaten there were leftovers.
My favorite line is found in Mark and Luke when Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.” Why is this my favorite line? Because I feel like a disciple of Jesus every time I read this. How in the world am I going to do this? Is Jesus kidding? And we know how the story ends. Jesus takes what is there and prays over it and there is more than enough.
This simple story inspires me because when I stop saying to Jesus how in the world can I do this and stop to pray, it happens. Maybe not how I imagined and yet it happens. When I open my eyes there is more than enough. So look for miracles where we see only problems and obstacles and be open to the ways we can say yes when Jesus says-you give them something to eat.

Youth Ministry Overnight Essentials

Years of working in youth ministry have taught me many lessons. I’ll share one with you. Invest in the necessary items to make sleeping away from home easier. This will be slightly different for each person. Here are some essentials for me.
-A fun sleeping bag. This Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag is a gift from my husband. When I use it while not sleeping at home, it always makes me think of him while staying warm.
-A good air mattress. Do not try to rough it by sleeping on the floor at a lock-in or mission trip. Buy a good air mattress and use it.
-Comfy Pajamas. Sleep in comfort and style with sleepwear that makes you smile. Remember to pack something that will keep you warm or cool (depending on the season) and still be appropriate for spending the night with a crowd. I’m enjoying these pajamas which are a souvenir from last summer’s Alaska trip.
-Board Games. Nothing says quality time with youth like a board games. I recommend you keep your own personal board games at home and only bring what you want to be used.
-Secret Snack. Whatever you need to help you through the overnight and next morning, bring it. Coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.
What would you add to this list of must haves for a night way from home with a crowd of your favorite youth?

Youth Ministry Conference Questions

This weekend I and a good friend are leading a workshop entitled “Balancing Marriage, Ministry, and Bi-Vocational Life” at a Youth Leader Conference. This week I have been pondering these questions as they relate to my ministry. I encourage you to consider how you would answer them (change the wording if needed) as you seek to live our your faith in the world.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself?
What do you wish you had known?
What is the best part of youth ministry?
What is the hardest part of youth ministry?
Why in the world are you still doing this?
What wisdom have you gleaned from your difficult days and years of experience that you want to share with others?
What gets you through the hard days?
Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
How does your work affect your family/spouse?
Talk about what it is like to do this work while single.
What boundaries/time management skills are essential for this work?
What surprised you most about youth ministry?
Blessings on your week as you spread joy and love in your corner of the world.
Photo taken on youth ministry beach retreat where I was very cold, and
some of my youth were probably swimming in the ocean!

A Baptism Sermon for My Nephew

A sermon preached February 22, 2015 at St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois on the occasion of my nephew’s baptism. Using the lectionary texts from the day of Genesis 9:8-17 and Mark 1:9-15.

 

 

 

 

Picture Jesus’ baptism. Can you see it? John and Jesus are in the Jordan River. And as Jesus is coming out of the water, “a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Who heard these words? Just Jesus? Jesus and John? Everyone who was there? While we may not know who heard these words when Jesus was baptized, we do get to hear them today and each time we hear this story. We hear of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven and the words of love and support that must have sustained Jesus when he reflected on them in his ministry.

 

What are the words of God that sustain you? Is it the story of the baptism of Jesus where we hear these words said to Jesus and realize they are a promise for us too? God says to each one of us-You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased. Do you find comfort in Noah’s story? Today we heard the end of the flood story where God promises to never again flood the whole earth. The covenant or promise made by God then was not just made to Noah but to all God’s children. God’s covenant with us as the flood story ends is a reminder that God will not turn away from humanity. God is a God of forgiveness and second and third and fourth chances. We cannot do anything to make God stop loving us. And God doesn’t give up on us. Ever. What good news this is.

 

The season of Lent is a perfect time to ponder what Scriptures sustain you, where you find hope, and what promises from God inspire you. Where do you find the good news? And how are you do you live out the good news in your daily life? In the Pope’s sermon from Friday, he implored people to live out the gospel this Lent by keeping our eyes open for people in need. Unfortunately, this season can become a time of only looking inward and focusing so much on our relationship with God that we fail to notice our brothers and sisters who are in need. This Lent we can make the choice to live God’s good news in ways that make it real in our hearts and in our lives.

 

One place we can all see good news in action is in the sacrament of baptism. I love baptisms. Not just on days like today when I have known the one being baptized since he was less than an hour old, I love all baptisms. Any time someone is baptized, it is a reminder of each of our baptisms and a reminder of the covenants or promises we have made to each other and God and the promises that God has made to each of us. Baptisms are never an isolating or isolated event they are always a communal event….always a community wide reminder of God’s love for the one being baptized and for all of us who are part of the baptized’s faith family. Baptisms are a reminder that each one of us is God’s beloved. You are beloved and with you God is pleased.

 

The New Century Hymnal has a hymn that is suggested for baptisms. It is a hymn that reminds us all that we are children of God. The first verse is-“Child of blessing, child of promise, baptized with the Spirit’s sign. With this water, God has sealed you unto love and grace divine.” We are all children of blessing and full of promise. Promises are what bind us together as a faith family and promises remind us of God’s neverending compassion for each of us. Just as at Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came down and said that “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” When we participate in a baptism, we are reminded that God says these words to the one being baptized, as well as all of us here gathered. In the waters of baptism, we see the outward and visible sign of God’s invisible love and grace.

 

In the second verse of this hymn, we hear, “Child of love, our love’s expression, love’s creation, love indeed! Fresh from God, refresh our spirits, into joy and laughter lead.” One of the joys of a new baby is that he or she reminds us of God’s goodness. When you hold a baby and see the baby smile at you (even if it is just gas), you can’t help but smile too. New babies refresh our spirits and remind us that God’s promises extend beyond us to the next generation just as they existed before us to our ancestors in the faith.

 

Verse 3 of the hymn says, “Child of joy, our dearest treasure, God’s you are, from God you came. Back to God, we humbly give you, live as one who bears Christ’s name.” Baptisms remind us that this child is God’s child. This is where we come in as a community of faith; it is our job to remind each other that we belong to God; and that we are all called to live as those who bear Christ’s name. We gather together in our faith communities regularly to remember who we are and whose we are.

 

The fourth verse finishes the hymn by reminding us once again of who we are and what we are called to be. Reminder you are a ”Child of God, your loving Parent, learn to know whose child you are. Grow to laugh and sing and worship, trust and love God more than all.”

 

Our Gospel lesson for today ends with these words- “repent and believe the good news”. Our good news is simply this, God loves us and promises to keep loving us. In the waters of baptism, we see this love poured out. As we journey through Lent, may we live as those who are loved and may we share this love with anyone who needs a reminder of God’s love. Amen.

Who Knows Your Story?

This week I read this piece about what is lost when a loved one dies. And the sentence that stayed with me is “You lose some of your story.” I have lost many people who held part of my story. I miss them and the stories they took to the grave with them. In an effort to attempt to recall some of those stories I have been reading old emails. I invite you to travel back in time with me to March 2008 when two best friends shared this email exchange. Thank you for sharing part of my story and allowing me to share part of yours.

Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
Of course I do.  Do I think I can go, probably not. Let me just bask in how awesome that would be. In fact it would probably even be legend—-wait for it—dary! Can you get a job at the ranch and sneak me in next year?
Kristi Foster wrote:
Going to a 12 day session at the ranch. $1200
Plane fare. . .$400?
Meeting one of the Indigo Girls with Suz…priceless
It would be awesome to go and awesome if I could get a job there.  Let me work on that!
:)K
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
Can you imagine meeting one of the IG? Seriously, that would be amazing and I’m sure the workshop would be phenomenal.  Wow.  I’m sure I can totally talk the session into this!  (ha ha ha!)
s
Kristi Foster wrote:
Personally, I’m hoping to be in between jobs and in possession of a winning lottery ticket. . . .which, by the way, would pay for y’all to have a new hot tub.  And we could probably book the IG for a private concert (I’m thinking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lottery ticket).
🙂 K
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
 If you are going to win the lottery, win big! 100,000 dollars, what is the point?  Go for 350 million instead.  Of course you will share it with needy individuals, so the money won’t be wasted!
Please God, hear the prayer of our sister, Kristi.
Help her to win the lottery so she can buy me a hot tub, book a private concert with the IG (which of course I would be invited to) and help your poor children around the world.  Thank you, God, for granting this wish, I mean prayer.  Amen.!
Kristi Foster wrote:
I meant hundreds of millions.  I agree, think big or go home!
Susannah DeBenedetto wrote:
I like the way you (and I) think!  Good to know we can still share a brain. What are you still doing at work?
s