In the Eye of the Storm

To say it’s been an emotionally “stormy” few weeks would be an understatement. Our extended family had originally planned to be on a beach trip celebrating our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary this week. Parents, siblings, grandkids of all ages, it’s quite the group and we have lots of fun. That was the plan. Then the storm broke in.

Mom and Dad were already in Florida babysitting the youngest grands (the “Littles”). They are the cutest! At the end of that time (on a Sunday), Dad ended up in the hospital with a rogue ear infection which had become bacterial meningitis and mastoiditis. Who knew that could happen? It did not look good: ICU, induced coma, ventilator, the “works.” Doctors were not too optimistic. Family came down. Prayer requests went out. Hundreds responded. God heard. Miraculously, by Wednesday of that week, he came off the ventilator and was coherent, recognized everyone, responded to commands, could talk and swallow. Even the doctors were astonished. It was NOT the outcome they had expected. The nurses and other care-givers were so loving and gracious. Dad was thanking everyone, praising God, witnessing to the doctors. We were celebrating and contemplating the next steps. Looking back, it was an eye in the storm.

By Friday, the storm started raging again. Dad started having some breathing problems. They got worse fast. That night the attending physician made the call to put him back on the ventilator (that’s a long story in itself.) It was a long night with more prayer requests sent out. By the next morning things were looking better and they took him back off the vent. When he woke up this time, though, he was a bit more serious. The trauma had affected him. On Sunday he seemed stable and on the mend. It was still “raining” and “cloudy,” but surely the sun was shining and clear skies were on the horizon. We said our good-byes and several of us headed back home to Georgia.

The week progressed and at some point he was moved out of ICU to a “step down floor.” Clouds were starting to clear. Plans were made again. However, this storm apparently had another “eye.” Or maybe it was another storm, I don’t know. But by Sunday the clouds were rolling in again. You know how storms are. You see a few clouds and don’t think anything of it. You sense a change in atmosphere, but dismiss it. Then all of a sudden the winds kick up, the lightening strikes and the thunder rolls. On Monday of this week, Dad was moved back to ICU. Doctors weren’t sure what was going on. Thankfully they recognized he would be best treated by his medical professionals at home, so they put in orders to have him transferred (what we were originally told the insurance company wouldn’t allow). Now he’s back in Georgia under the care and supervision of his specialty doctors. We are cautiously optimistic.

I haven’t listened to contemporary Christian radio in at least a week. But for some reason this morning, the song “In the Eye of the Storm” was queued in my subconscious. I was singing what little I could remember of it as I walked into work. I went into the Ministry Center for the juice of consciousness (coffee), and there was a group in there getting ready for River of Life. They had the radio playing on the same. exact. song. God had cued my subconscious and then poked my consciousness on the shoulder. I had to go look it up and see the lyrics. It turns out to be the perfect reminder for today. God knew that. He is our Anchor, no matter the storm.

I link it here for you because maybe your skies are cloudy. Maybe the wind is knocking you around. His love surrounds you in the eye of the storm. Be blessed!

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The Joy of Childhood

It’s VBS week at our church. With full-time work and school, I thought I really didn’t have time to help with it. But our children’s directors were desperate for volunteers so I agreed. They put me with the 4K group! I was more than a bit anxious of how I was going to make it through this week, concerned that my energy level would be zapped. It’s been awhile since I’ve worked with young children.

Now it is Friday morning and I am sad it’s the last day! I have experienced the joy, creativity, and love of God every day in these sweet children and in the other volunteers, especially our youth workers. The music is etched in my brain to the point that I’m singing it in my dreams; but it’s praises to God, so it’s wonderful. This week has restored joy to my spirit and INCREASED my energy!

It is so easy to get overwhelmed with theological studies and adult problems in church, work and at home (budgets, bills, meetings, reports, planning, house care, family care, etc.). This week God spoke to me through the children, even as they ran around, playing with new friends, just laughing and singing and enjoying life, knowing that they were cared for and watched over and loved. He spoke anew to me: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes Me” (Matthew 18:3-5, NRSV). 

We GET to be in ministry and serve God and people. With God in charge, that’s exciting!

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Setting a Goal, Day 3

Good Afternoon Christ Walk Group!

I have a special challenge for you. We have an opportunity to get our steps in AND help someone else!

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Wesley Glen Ministries is a wonderful organization which provides care and housing for adults with developmental disabilities. The cost to participate is $28 if you register now. We would love to have a group walk together. I have registered for the 5K. Of course, if you have a more competitive nature and want to win some prizes, go ahead! We don’t want to hold you back. 🙂

For more information, check out this link: http://cherryblossomroadrace.com. Comment below if you will be joining us. Also let us know of other causes we can support with our steps!

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Walking with Christ for Lent

51asdlbaaslToday is the second official day of Lent; but it counts as day 1 in our Christ Walk program. Because several in our group either aren’t on Facebook, or are fasting from it during this season, I have decided to use this as our group encouragement page. All comments, although moderated, are public. And anyone is welcome to join us. We are using the book Christ Walk: A 40-Day Spiritual Fitness Program by Anna Fitch Courie as our guide. We have weekly, in person, group meetings on Wednesdays, 5pm-6pm, in Room 99 at Forest Hills United Methodist Church in Macon, GA. If you can’t be with us in person, you are still welcome to be part of our online group.

Yesterday we held our introductory meeting. One of the first things to do is choose your mileage challenge from page 186-187 which you will personally walk over the next 40 days. Because this is a first time “Christ Walk” for many of us, and it’s Lent, I suggest we choose one of the “Jesus routes” the book lists, specifically:

  • Nazareth Challenge: The route between Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth and Jerusalem, 65 miles. This would be 1.6 miles or about 4,000 steps per day.
  • Jerusalem Challenge, aka the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows): The route Jesus took through Jerusalem during the last week of his life, 88 miles This will be 2.2 miles or about 5,500 steps per day.
  • Bethlehem Challenge: The distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 200 miles. This is 5 miles or about 10,000 steps per day.

Pick a challenge based on your fitness level. For the athletes out there, the author suggests doing the Bethlehem Challenge without a pedometer, getting 5 miles of exercise daily in one workout. You could also do the Bethlehem challenge for the first 5 weeks and then do the Jerusalem Challenge during Holy Week. For all fitness levels, the idea is to move your body in a healthy manner. If walking is a problem, 15-20 minutes of other exercise can count as one mile.

Over the course of the next 40 days, there are daily readings in the book which help you to examine your physical, mental and spiritual health. In our meetings we will cover these same topics, as well as nutrition.  Our congregational nurse is available for physical assessments to monitor weekly progress. We will also have some kind of class exercise each week, so wear your active-wear!

God gave us these bodies, not only to house His Holy Spirit within us, but to also move them in healthy ways, and ultimately to spread His Kingdom on Earth. Let’s encourage one another to take our next steps toward Christ! Comment below what challenge route you are doing.

Example of what we don’t want for our future…

 

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The Last Time

This morning I took a shower in my Mema’s house, probably for the last time. It’s funny how things hit you sometimes. For the last couple of weekends, we have been working to clean out Mema’s house since she doesn’t need any of this stuff in heaven. 🙂 The 9 months since her death have been eventful, to be sure. My Mom has the most stories to tell. This season has been a most difficult one in her life. She has been an absolute ROCK star! She takes after her mother.

Mema was practical, seemingly unbreakable. She took the crap that life handed her and dealt with it head on. She was tough, but gentle. She ALWAYS took care of the people around her. She never stopped. She worked, and worked, and worked, and loved and loved and loved. She was a phenomenal care-giver. She loved fully. She gave completely. We saw her generosity to us, but now realize we have seen only a glimpse of the far-reaching extent of her generosity. In fact, there were a lot of things about her we are discovering the depth of only now.

“Generous,” “loving,” “practical,” “long-suffering,” “wise,” “dependable,” “strong,” “private,” “discerning,” “hard-working,” “persevering,”– all words that describe Mema. In fact, as I type these words, I can’t help but think of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. She embodied that passage like no one else I’ve ever known.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

So here I sit. After a lifetime of visiting Mema’s house, we are down to the last time: the last time I sat at her table to eat with extended family, the last time of sitting in her den reading one of her books, the last time taking a shower at her house. It hurts my heart. We often don’t know when something is happening for the last time until we look back. In the last weeks of her life, every time we left her, we wondered if it was the last time. And then it was. A diagnosis of cancer or other disease makes you aware that each life event, each holiday, each good-bye may be the last time with a loved one. Yet oftentimes, we experience last events without that awareness. This is probably a good thing. Would we fully embrace the joy of the moment if there was grief hanging over it?

No. We don’t need to borrow tomorrow’s grief in today’s celebration. Mema wouldn’t want that.

Even in this last time, Mema’s practicality helps to bring laughter through the tears. As the sadness washed over me with the water this morning, the shower curtain rings caught my eye. I couldn’t help but giggle. What would you do if the best placement of the shower curtain rod caused too big of a gap at the bottom of the curtain? Mema just added another row of curtain rings to the existing curtain rings. Fixed for less than a dollar. I swear that woman could have been the original author of all the “life-hack” videos and lists we’ve seen on social media.

God, please give me just a portion of her spirit and wisdom. I KNOW it came from YOU. Amen!

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Whose Agenda are We Following, and Why?

“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “A certain group of people exist in pockets among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of everyone else (stricter, actually, because of their religious beliefs), and they refuse to obey the king’s laws (just the one stating they had to bow down to Haman or any man against their religious beliefs). There’s no good reason for the king to put up with them any longer (they weren’t bothering the king, just Haman.) If the king wishes, let a written order be sent out to destroy them, and I will hand over ten thousand kikkars of silver to those in charge of the king’s business. The silver can go into the king’s treasuries.” (Haman was willing to personally fund the campaign to wipe out those who didn’t agree with his prideful, selfish agenda. This was personal.) Esther 3:8-9, CEB, (my comments added.)

In this story, one man (Haman) felt another man (Mordecai) disrespected him. Haman’s pride caused him to then view everyone of Mordecai’s race as a threat to his powerful position. This fear wasn’t based on fact, it was based on prejudice. Because Haman was in a position of power, influence and wealth, he was able to spread his agenda quickly, without the king investigating the facts of the case. The king probably trusted his leaders who were closer to the situation. An entire group of people’s lives were endangered with no real thought at all from the “government” because a small group within the government felt disrespected by these people following their religious beliefs.

In light of the news this week, what can we learn from this story to apply to our society today?

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He Could Have Grabbed a Stone

“And Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He returned to the temple. All the people gathered around Him, and He sat down and taught them. The legal experts and Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. Placing her in the center of the group, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone women like this. What do you say?” They said this to test Him, because they wanted a reason to bring an accusation against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger.
They continued to question Him, so He stood up and replied, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.” Bending down again, He wrote on the ground. Those who heard Him went away, one by one, beginning with the elders. Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Sir.”
Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.”
~~John 8:1-11, Contemporary English Bible

In this story, religious leaders and legal experts were going to use a woman’s life to trap Jesus. Legal experts. At this point in Israel’s history, they were living by the Roman laws and trying to follow (at least in word) the stricter Jewish law. In the center of this microcosm God, the Maker/Formulator of the very law the legal experts were trying to use to trip Jesus up, enters as Jesus. Ironic. The story, though, just tugs at my heart.

This story initially stirs my anger. As a woman, my first reaction is: “Jerks! She wasn’t ‘caught in adultery’ alone. Where is her partner? Why didn’t they bring him?” The Law they were referring to, found in Leviticus 20:10, says “both must be executed.” In Numbers 5:11, there is a description of what to do if a woman is suspected of committing adultery, but not “caught.” Being caught means there is another guilty (and equally condemned) party, as well.

I feel empathy for this woman, standing in the middle of the crowd, exposed and possibly naked, with her sin proclaimed for everyone to know and judge. How often do we do this to people today, I wonder, while secretly hoping no one does the same to us? For some, the sin is obvious because there is still a stark contrast on some things between right and wrong. But for others, hiding has become easy. Heck, some sins we don’t even hide anymore, even at church functions (because eating too much is a fun way to bring people together).

We mustn’t lose sight of the accusers’ motivation, mentioned in verse 6. They were not asking Jesus what they should do because they wanted to know if there was any grace in the Law. This wasn’t, “Jesus, what would God have us do? This woman is our mother/sister/friend/neighbor. We love her. We don’t want to have to stone her, but the law says we must. We are heartbroken, what do we do?” No, this was a set-up. The woman, exposed with her life on the line, was a pawn for the purpose of finding a reason to bring an accusation against Jesus. And I wonder, why would this have been a dilemma for Jesus? How would this have tested Him? In order for it to “test” Him, there would have to be a compelling reason for Him not to say, “Yes. That’s what the law says. Do what you must.” The law is clear. She was “caught.” There were obviously more than 2 witnesses. (How on earth that was arranged is left out of the story.) Did He know this woman? Did she already have a “reputation”? Was she one of the crowd that had been following Him, intrigued by His teaching and wondering if she really had any hope? I wonder.

I also wonder about Jesus’ initial response. What was He writing on the ground? Was He just creating some space to let emotions settle and for people to think? Did He write or draw something that struck their hearts? Then, in the middle of his writing/drawing, He spoke that famous phrase, “Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”

Do you realize that He was speaking about Himself? He was the only one in the crowd who had not sinned. By His own words He had the authority to start the execution sentence. But He didn’t. He just bent down and wrote on the ground some more. The others knew their personal sins. Imagine one of them picking up a stone to throw and the guy standing next to him saying, “Um…Fred… umm…Hold on a minute. I know you can’t start this. You lied to me yesterday.” So they went away one by one, led by the elders. Were these the same elders who had led the charge to test Jesus?

The story ends with so much hope for each of us. Jesus, the only ONE without sin who could have cast the first stone says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on, don’t sin anymore.” “I don’t condemn you.” Do you need to hear that from Jesus today? HE DOESN’T CONDEMN YOU. Yes, you are guilty. You may be caught. You broke God’s Law. You broke His heart. The sentence is clear. But you are not condemned by the only One who has the right to pass that sentence. Because of Jesus, you are free to go and sin no more. You can leave the past behind you and walk in new life. Others still may not trust you, they may judge you, or expect you to keep doing what you have before. In fact, they may still be hurt by what you have done. There may be natural and logical consequences you have to face because of your sin. I don’t know. But you have a chance to start anew today, to live differently from this point forward, to make better choices, to walk free of eternal condemnation. Trust Jesus.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in Him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
“This is the basis for judgment: The Light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the Light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the Light and don’t come to the Light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the Light. Whoever does the truth comes to the Light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”-John 3:16-21, Contemporary English Bible.

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