Look for Jesus This Holy Week

Look for Jesus This Holy Week
This week can be difficult for people of faith. We know what is coming next Sunday, and we look with joy to Easter. And yet, we can get so busy looking ahead to what comes next that we aren’t present in what is happening now. The stories of this week are familiar to those who have spent their whole lives in the church and less familiar to those who haven’t.
This week I encourage you to look for Jesus. Look for him in celebrations and parades and times of joy. Look for him eating with his friends and laughing. Look for him among those whose friends have abandoned them. Look for him among the dying. Look for him among the lonely. And finally, look for him among the living, in surprising places, and in familiar places. If you keep your eyes open this week, you just might see Jesus in many, many people.
Loving God, We are looking for Jesus this week. Guide our steps, so we may see him in the people we meet, in the people we ignore and overlook, and hopefully in ourselves. Change our paths and routines, Holy One, so we follow where Jesus leads. Be with us this week as it is so hard to understand and comprehend the events of this holy week. Open our eyes to see the beauty and tragedy of this time. In the name of Jesus who first walked this journey, we pray. Amen.

Thank God for Volunteers!

Thank God for Volunteers! 

For years of my life, a good portion of my job relied on the kindness of volunteers. I asked people to stuff hundreds of eggs at Easter, stay up way too late for a lock-in, go on a mission trip, teach children about God through many different means and methods, lead worship, make lots of food, and so many other things! Ministry requires volunteers. Thank you all for volunteering!

Now I find myself in a different place. I was the only person in church on Sunday who volunteered to help with the Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday. Now I am the person who can say yes when asked. When I shared this story with my husband, he said how many times have you had to beg for volunteers?

So as I am thinking about volunteers and those who work to recruit them, I am thankful! I am holding all volunteers and those who recruit them in my prayers because it is hard!

 

Loving God, Thank you for those who say yes! Thank you for those who say yes, show up, and help! Thank you for all those who volunteer however they are able.

God, For all those who must recruit volunteers, we lift those hard workers up to you. Give them the words to say and the strength to keep on asking.

O Holy One, Help us to use our gifts to share your love with all we meet! Amen.

Thoughts on Communion Bread

Thoughts on Communion Bread

In my lifetime, I’ve taken communion more times than I can remember or count. I’ve presided at communion tables with my Dad, with other colleagues, and by myself. I’ve served children, youth, and adults. I love the act of gathering around a table with a group of people who seek to live lives of justice and need a reminder that each of us is loved by God.

Throughout my ministry I have spent much time talking about communion, and you won’t be surprised to know that some of the conversation has contained complaints. Do you know what the number one complaint I hear about communion is? The Bread! The body of Christ (the church) spends too much time complaining about that which represents the body of Christ.

Here are some of the concerns I’ve heard and some tips for helping you navigate the difficulty of eating communion bread that is not your favorite.

Wafers-
If your church uses wafers for bread, you might have complained that they taste like Styrofoam. This leads me to wonder if all church people are eating Styrofoam or we are just imagining what Styrofoam tastes like.
I grew up with these tasty morsels. In fact, it was the tradition in my home church for each person to break the wafer in half before eating to symbolize the breaking of Christ’s body for each of us.
You have two choices with this type of bread.
FAST-The fast method is to chew it up as quickly as you can and swallow it.
SLOW-The slow method is to let it dissolve on your tongue.
If you are lucky enough to be using a wafer for intinction, take an extra second dipping the wafer into the wine/juice. Any extra liquid you can get with the wafer will help with the taste and ease of eating.

Breads-
Communion breads come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Some churches use the same bread each time while others love to mix it up.
If you get to select the size of your piece of bread, pick it in proportion to how much you enjoy the bread. If your piece is given to you, just eat it.
If you are dipping your bread into juice/wine and some of your bread drops off in the cup, do not fish it out. Whatever is floating in the cup needs to stay in the cup.
And if you know you are going to dip your bread into a cup, please take a decent sized piece of bread. If your bread is big enough then only your bread goes into the cup and not your fingers.

This writing was inspired by a statement I heard in a church. I loved what I overheard the person sitting behind me say so much that I wrote it down. Unfortunately, I do not know who said it nor even what church I was in when I heard it. Chew on these wise words from an anonymous churchgoer.
“Remember this if you do not like the communion bread. No one is asking you to make a sandwich out of it. Just take a little!”

We are invited to this table to remember. So I invite you to remember that we are all welcome at this table because it is Christ’s table. The next time you come to this table and find your favorite bread and beverage or your least favorite, remember you are loved and forgiven. It is okay to smile and think on these words-no one is asking you to make a sandwich out of it.

 

This is the communion table at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Guest Post-The Strength to Move Forward

My sister was asked by her company, Allsup, to write about her experience with cancer. Here is her story which she titled, The Strength to Move Forward.

In November 2015, I went to my doctor because I just did not feel right. I had a lot of dizziness and headaches. I thought it was just that I needed new glasses. The doctor suggested that I go to the hospital and get a blood panel done. I got a call about 30 minutes after I left the office that I needed to go directly to the ER and get a blood transfusion.

My hemoglobin was a six (about half the normal amount). I was so scared. I called my husband and we went directly to the ER. They did a blood transfusion that night. I saw a gastrointestinal doctor the next day and they recommended a colonoscopy.

I had my colonoscopy on November 11, 2015. That was my diagnosis day. I had colon cancer stage 3A. I had a colon resection surgery two weeks later.  They removed 12 inches of my colon. I was able to go home on Thanksgiving Day. We definitely had a lot to be thankful for.

I had a clear PET scan in early December. My doctor suggested doing preventive chemotherapy. I started 12 rounds of chemotherapy in January. I was able to return to work part time in February 2016 and it was a great feeling to be able to return to “normal.” I was able to work every other week while I finished treatment.

My chemo weeks were always a struggle. It was very challenging taking care of two small children and receiving treatments. I had four to six hours of treatment on Mondays and then had an infusion pump that I had to wear until Wednesday. It was very draining. My energy levels were very low, but with the support from family and friends I was able to move forward.

I finished my treatment on June 8, 2016. This was a very exciting day! My husband and my kids were able to go with me for my last time, and that made it all worthwhile. I had another clear scan later that month. My family and friends were my strength to keep going. I cannot thank everyone enough for being my strength during this difficult time and giving me the encouragement to move forward.

 

Searching for Sabbath

Just as I was steeping a cup of tea and preparing to sit down for a time of reading and writing my phone rang. The caller did not give me the news I wanted to hear. Instead I heard bad news that instantly annoyed me. The news I heard was not bad health news and my loved ones are all fine. It was nothing like that. It was not the news I wanted to hear, and I was annoyed. I needed my cup of tea and quiet time more than ever.

And the cup of tea, Earl Grey Creme, is not warming my soul as it normally does. I’m having trouble concentrating on my reading. My intention of writing about taking time for Sabbath took a slight change as I now had to reorient my thinking. How can I shut out the distractions of daily life so I can be fully present in Sabbath time? While each person has a different method for clearing out thoughts that distract, here is what works for me.

I write down what is distracting me. The physical work of writing it down allows me to transfer it from my brain where it is swirling around onto a piece of paper where I can pick it up later if needed or leave it there on that piece of paper.

I change my surroundings. I move outside if the weather is cooperating or move to where I have a view of the outside. I find a place to sit that is comfortable and not where I felt so distracted.

I remind myself that grace abounds. If now is not the time for quiet prayer and reflection, how else might I be present to God’s presence? Is now a good time to take a walk and envelop myself in God’s creation? Is now a good time to tackle a project that is long overdue? Is now a good time to write a letter to someone who is on my mind?

Whatever direction your Sabbath takes, I hope you’ll remember that grace abounds and you are loved more than you know.

40 Things in 40 Days

40 Things in Lent

 

Each year in Lent I strive to give away 40 things. This practice combines my love of making lists with my love of giving things away. I have very few rules around what constitutes a “thing” I give away. One day I might clean out my t-shirt drawer and donate what I do not need. Another day I might sort through the pantry and collect a box of food to share with someone else. If the opportunity presents itself, I’d love to give away a lunch to someone who is hungry. Often I give away many things to the recycling containers too. And I love to surprise a friend with something I give away in a package I send.

I use Lent as a time to give away and get rid of stuff so I can start new in Easter. And in response to my statement I was challenged by this thought from my friend, Brad. “Great idea but the real transformation would be to not start new in Easter with replacing what you cleaned out!” And the challenging thoughts continued with Jim’s statement, “I wonder if that would affect what I give away.”

I am seeking transformation this Lenten season, and so I am going to give away 40 things in Lent with no plans to replace them when Easter comes. I’m going to seek to inspire my sense of giving over these next 40 days.

How are you observing this season of Lent?

Waiting Through This Season of Lent

Since I am not serving a church this year, it feels like the season of Lent snuck up on me. I’ve known it was coming, and yet, I no longer need to prepare for the next church season months in advance. So, Lent is here and I’m just beginning to think about how I’ll observe this season.

While wondering how best to observe this season, I read the newsletter from St. Giles Presbyterian Church. Each Sunday in Lent, they will be singing one of my favorite songs from Taize, “Wait for the Lord.” As I read these words, I realized this is exactly what I need this year. I need to pause. I need to stop. I need to wait.

Wait for the Lord,  whose day is near.

Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart!

Every day of Lent I plan to sing this song. I will work on waiting and watching for the Lord. How will you observe this season?

Lenten Countdown with Post-its

Lenten Countdown with Post its

 

Those of you who know me well will know that I love post-its. I keep (at least) one pack in my purse in case of a post-it emergency. When I was doing youth and children’s ministry, I found many ways to work post-its into my lessons. Here is one example I first used a few years ago at St. Giles Presbyterian Church.

 

You will need 47 purple post-its for each person.

An Easter Sticker for each person.

Sharpie or pen to write.

 

Helpful Hints-

If you can find purple post-its that have 50 sheets, use those! I found 100 sheet purple post-its and split them in half.

I did this as a children’s message one Sunday morning and created all the countdowns myself. It took some time! If you have friends, a committee or ministry team, or a way of copying onto a package of post-its, I highly recommend doing it another way.

 

We are creating a countdown to Easter for our children/youth/families or yourself. Now the tricky part is that the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays which is why you need 47 post-its. On the first post-it, you’ll write 40. On the second post-it, you’ll write 39.

 

Here’s the countdown for you-

40, 39, 38, 37, Sunday, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32, 31, Sunday, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, Sunday, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, Sunday, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, Sunday, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, Sunday, 6, 5, 4, 3 (Maundy Thursday), 2 (Good Friday), 1, Easter!

 

After creating all these countdowns, you’ll be ready to hand them out or you could have people make their own at a Lenten Fair. I recommend giving them out the Sunday before Ash Wednesday (February 26) and having some available on Ash Wednesday (March 1) and the first Sunday of Lent (March 5).

 

If distributing them to families during the children’s message, talk with the children about the season of Lent and how they’ll observe it. Talk about how we are all preparing for Easter in these 40 days and Sundays. Since 40 days is a very long time for most children to understand, this is a visual example of how long we’ll be waiting and preparing.

If you’d like to give this a try and your Lenten plans are already done, make one for yourself and try it out this year. See if the daily act of taking one more number off the pile helps you to visualize and live into this holy season.

 

God’s Promise of Community

God’s promise of community.

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

 

Psalm 119: 33-40

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.

Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.

Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.

Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.

See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

 

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Questions to Ponder-

How can we be a loving community? By living these Scriptures! Now, the challenge is how to help us hear them today. We can say we don’t steal, but do we “borrow” our neighbor’s wifi? (Probably not the best example….but there must be modern examples of how we hurt each other. I would love to know what modern examples come to mind for you). And I wonder how we can move this up to the corporation level. Even though I believe corporations aren’t people, how does what businesses do hurt us and what can we do about that for ourselves and each others?

I’d love to hear your examples of where you see us living as community. God has promised us community and we need to do the hard work of making it a reality.

A Month of Letter Writing

A Month of Writing Letters
When I walk to my mailbox each night, I am hopeful that something fun will be inside. Somedays I open the mailbox, and it is empty. This happened just last night! When my mailbox is empty, I always assume it is a holiday that I didn’t remember. Somedays I open the mailbox and find only advertisements. On the best days, I open the mailbox and find a card or letter from a real person. It makes my day.
I love writing letters, and I love getting mail. For those two reasons, I enjoy participating in A Month of Letters Challenge. During the month of February, I sent out (at least) 23 handwritten letters or cards. As I write I think of the joy I am sending to another person. As I write I pray for the person who will receive the letter. I appreciate that in this wintry, cold month I have a goal to accomplish, and it is spreading cheer across the country.
I invite you to join me this month in writing at least one handwritten letter. Together we can share joy with others who just need a reminder that they are loved.