Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

The day after Christmas (Dec. 26) is called by some cultures, "Boxing Day."

If you were, like me, battling shoppers at the Hallmark Store this morning for the 50% mark-down on holiday items, you may think that "boxing day" is in reference to the pushing and shoving of crazed shoppers. Actually, Boxing Day has nothing to do with slugging it out. It DOES have to do with actual boxes.

My mother is the only person I know who, if you call her on the phone today, will answer "Happy Boxing Day." She is a first-generation American from Scotland/Ireland and says that when she was a girl, her family packed up boxes, gifts, to share with others less fortunate.

Boxing Day in Great Britain, was a time of joyful, intentional gift giving to the poor or the shut-in. I thought about this lost holiday when I boxed up a gift my husband gave me.. and head out to return it to Target this morning. I felt sad and guilty, that on this day, once set aside for charitable acts, I continue to be concerned about myself. I stand in line at customer service to be "served" rather than to go "serve" someone else. The more time I spent anonymously a part of the shopping crowds, the more lonely I felt.

It occured to me that the wisdom of boxing day is that it allows our soul to recallibrate. To return to our original design, which is that we are created to love and share love with others.

Happy Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Angels in the Outfield

The Washington Times, published the results of a survey in September, that reported HALF OF AMERICANS BELIEVE in ANGELS.Even the researchers were surprised at that!

Jesus himself said that evey child has an angel on their behalf, the Creation story describes how God created the angels at the time of creating heaven. Angels show up all through out the bible. And they show up, I've noticed, thoughout our lives.
My angel story happened after a worship service a few years ago, on Christmas Day. That particula Christmas, we didn’t have snow, but instead it rained. I was suprised that as many came to church for on such a cold, rainy morning, but there were maybe 20 or 30 of us in the church. While we worshipped, the temperature dropped outside. By the time we left to go home, the parking lot and sidewalks were covered in ice.

I was standing in the sanctuary, when someone ran in from outside to tell me there was an accident. A woman had fallen on the ice. Quickly, I ran out and found her laying on the cold wet cement, with sleet pouring down on her. I took off my robe, and held it above her like an umbrella. She was writhing in pain. Her family gathered around her, and it was then that I learned that her knee had been replacement within the year.. and so we don't know if her knee gave out or if she simply slipped. Either way, everyone was anxious for the ambulance to arrive.

The woman and I began to pray, and I held her hand as we waited.

Suddenly, a young man walked out of the church and came over to us. I had never seen him before. I didn't recognize him from the morning worship service. And he came up and said that he was a doctor. He told her to remain as still as she could. and he stabilized her legs. Rain poured down on him, and we offered to cover him with choir robes - as some folks had just ran in to grab choir robes to keep her warm and dry. He didn't seem to care about himself. He was focused on her.

You know how in that type of situation, how you don't even question certain things? I never asked him his name, as he squatted alongside with me. The ambulance came, they moved her into it carefuly... and I never saw him after that. I never saw him leave. I never asked his name. He was there and gone before we knew it.

In the movie, Angels in the Outfield, there is a classic line which echos my belief in angels, "The footprints of an angel are love, and where there is love, miraculous things can happen. I've seen it."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pray while you wait

Advent could be summed up as a season of waiting. But the only waiting I really run into during the month of December is waiting in lines.. so what is the spirit of Advent? What does it mean to wait for Christmas? My awareness of the many types of waiting deepened while I was a hospital Chaplain and one of my “regular rounds” were the waiting rooms.

During rounds, I'd introduce myself to people waiting… and inquire about their wait.. and ask if maybe they'd like to pray while they waited.

There were all sorts of responses to my offer. Some refused my offer assuming that I wouldn’t pray with a Catholic, or a Jew, or a Muslim. But since I'll pray with anyone, no matter their faith.

One particular guy said he didn’t believe in God and so he didn’t see the need for prayer.. But when I offered to pray to God on his behalf, he appreciated that. I never met anyone who objected to me praying for them.

I discovered that time in waiting rooms isn’t marked by minutes and hours - but rather it is marked by cups of coffee, the number of exits and entrances of others.. the conversations that get going across the aisles regarding something that happens on TV.. or something that is announced across a loudspeaker.
Time also gets marked by worries, unanswerable questions… and a strange punchi-ness that comes when tension turns to laughter. .
The advent season can be like a waiting room.. siting with others, yet strangely alone. None of us wait alike. Some of us are tapping our fingers anxiously, while others are tapping along to the Christmas music playing across the loudspeaker.

Looking around, I see some people are caught up in the excitement of Christmas, while others are overwhelmed by it. Personally, I fluctuate between a bit of each.

Maybe that is why the church chooses to mark time in Advent with candles..

just a simple, single, light slowly brought into darkness.

The glow can calm our anxious spirits.. and the simple image of four candles might just keep us from feeling frenzied.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My head is in Lent

It's the first Sunday of Advent - do you know where your pastor is?

I am in the gospel of Mark.. not Chapter 1 which is our scripture for this Sunday:"The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ." Nope, I'm in Chapter 8, reading, praying and dreaming about the season of Lent. Yes, you read that right. My head is in Lent. Which may seem, to some, as difficult as whistling jingle bells while decorating Easter Eggs.

During the cheery holiday season of bright red sales catalogs and Christmas lights, it is somewhat of a stretch to turn my eyes toward Lent. In Mark 8:31-38, Jesus tells the disciples that he must undergo great suffering, he must be rejected, and he will be killed.

However, I see that the Advent season carries the reality of death even as we await new birth, new life.

I am reminded of when my cousin held her newborn baby boy in her arms and cried, and cried, and cried. Perplexed, someon asked "Why are you crying?"
"Because" she said, "Someday, someone is gonna break his heart." As a parent, we hold this new life in our arms and don't want to see it get hurt. Yet, babies to grow up to be teenager who have their hearts broken at a highschool dance (true event)... or undergo embaressing moments of throwing up on athird grade teacher. (true event).

To hold a newborn and imagine the humliation and suffering of the cross is too much. Yet, this is the depth of grief that Mary might of pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19).

Today, I pray for all of those who are grieving the loss of precious loved ones and those who are facing death. This season may not (commercially) have room for the full depth of our human experience, the Gospel does.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rats - and the women who adopt them

In every United Methodist Church there is a special, organized unit of women in ministry called the UMW. However, I doubt that many churches can say with pride, "Our UMWomen love rats."

The first Tuesday of the month is the regular meeting time for the United Methodist Women. And being that today was the last meeting of the year, this was their time for deciding which charities and causes they would like to support financially with money they have raised over 2008.
It was an exciting discussion that took an unusual turn. While listening to Alma Rita give details about the many important charities.. she suprised us all when she held up a small newspaper clipping and said,
"And then there are the rats..."
"Did you say RATS?" someone asked.
"I'm all for paying them - if it keeps them away," I replied.

Then my words fell shallow as Alma Rita explained that rats are being trained to detect landmines and disease. Rats are able to detect metal and plastic encased landmines, without setting them off. Once trained, 30 rats can work together and cover 200 sqm per day! Rats also are being trained to detect disease. A single rat can evaluate 40 TB samples in 7 minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician, will do in two days!
All of us sort of fell in love with the rats this afternoon - and began to appreciate these creatures of God.

The good news from Olivet today, is that along with supporting local, national, and international missions, the women of Olivet agreed that we also should support rats in mission.

I invite you to look at Hero Rat, the organization which trains and deploys these invaluable vermin.
Perhaps you feel like the anonymous post from yesterday, that Christmas needs to get back to the real meaning - in which case, I think an alternative gift like a Hero Rat might just be perfect for getting out of "the rat race" of holiday shopping.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Free Grace - all year 'round

Just this weekend, people lined up at 4am to begin the frenzy of Christmas shopping. The excitement of getting a bargain ended in tragedy, as the shoppers stampeded the store and trampled to death a young man who was hired just for the holiday season. When I heard this news, it made me even more aware that the world needs to know the meaning of Christmas. The real meaning. That God's free grace is available all year round. The Christmas Spirit is not the frenzy of purchasing something at a discount – but is about sharing in what has been given to us freely in the birth of his Son: the grace of God with us.

This December, I invite you to come to the Lusby Giant CafĂ© for a special discussion about The Purpose of Christmas, by Rick Warren. This is a chance to welcome a stranger into the grace of God’s love at Christmas. Also, I invite you to consider serving “the least” through one of the opportunities of our church, listed below.
Homemade Christmas Stocking Stuffers One of our Wednesday Crafty Ladies has made Christmas stockings that are to be given to folks in nursing centers. We invite you to fill these with items such as hand lotion, word searches, pens, paper, or such items. Maybe you would like to purchase items to fill the stockings or be a part of the delivering them with Pastor Faith? Stockings will be completed after December 21. Delivery date not yet se. See Pastor Faith for details.
Adopt-a-Family Christmas Gifts Purchase an item for children through the “giving tree” which is in the church hall. Take an ornament from the tree with instructions on ages, etc.
I invite you to pick something that can be your “worship, your “gift” to the Christ child. Jesus promises that when you do these things for “the least”, he is made manifest in that moment.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Ordinary King

I caught up with a clergy friend who serves a United Methodist church which has a food pantry. The pastor said that right before she was to send around a list of items needed to restock their shelves (peanut butter, can goods, etc) a church member asked if she could included the list in her daughters' birthday invitation.
Would you believe that for this girl's party, she requested not to have any gifts?
The birthday girl instead wanted kids to replenish her churches churches food pantry.
It gives me a deep sense of awe when a child exhibits such a heart of giving.. I give thanks to God for children who can teach us simple truths.

A few weeks later, the mom and little girl showed up at the churches food pantry with 50 bags of groceries! 50 bags! A decision by one girl to use the opportunity of her own birthday party .. not as a chance to be lavished with gifts.. but instead to lavish the poor. She turned the notion of "birthday parties" upside down - seeing it not as a time to be blessed, but to be a blessing.
Today is Christ the King Sunday - A day when the notion of kingship is turned upside down. Our King Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46) tells us that to love him, we must love "the least."
In church today, some incredible musicians sang "How Many Kings" which really helped all of us understand how Christ is in the midst of the poor, the suffering, the sick, the imprisoned. For those of you who like to read the story behind the song and listen to online - visit the artist's blog at link.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Elijah's Rain Clouds

The Upper Room devotional from yesterday was based on 1 Kings, when Elijah expects God to bring the rain and he is so confident even as things look grim. The writer suggested that sometimes we need to rejoice in the small acts of God, just as Elijah noticed the small puff of a cloud on the horizon.

The odds are stacked against Olivet Church - our location is less than ideal, there are lots of appealling, effective churches people can choose from in Lusby and just look at the financial market.. the future is grim for everyone, it seems... How can we have hope now?

And yet, I have never felt so sure and anchored in hope than I do right now, as your Pastor. Jesus promised to abide with us as we abide in Him, and to keep us nourished with his Living Presence, the Holy Spirit. We have all things in Christ, after all.

I can relate to Elijah - standing in dry times and getting excited about the signs of percipitation.

I wonder if Elijah jumped up and down when he saw that cloud?

When I see signs of God, I certainly do.

Before typing this blog, I got a voice mail from Doug Hood regarding some new equipment for our worship together that had me jumping up and down like a kid at a birthday party when they finally cut the cake. I could hardly hit re-dial. Then, on Monday, I was jumping up and down when Alma Rita told me there were over 100 persons counted on Sunday for worship! Last night, I was too tired to actually jump up and down, but I wanted to when Julie Blair and I found the most perfect graphic for the youth music video.

For Olivet, we just need to keep declaring that Jesus is the one for whom we live, and He will keep caring for us, providing for us. He is responsible for all these "small things," stuff that a skeptic would say were nothing..For me, these are Elijah's rain clouds.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Practically Free Gasoline

After church on Sunday, I went up the road to the gas station in Lusby to fill up my tank. I stood there listening to the sound of the gasoline pour into my hollow, cavernous tank and gave thanks that gas prices are going down.

When I looked up at the pump, I noticed that the price hadn't moved. Was I in a time warp? I had been standing there for the usual amount of time it takes to fill my tank.. and yet, the pump was telling me I only had put in three dollars worth of gasoline. I was totally confused.

The digital numbers "per gallon" were flashing along quickly - but the dollar amount was moving at snail's pace.

The hose clicked and my tank was full. And the price was just around $3.45.

In that moment, I realized I had only been charged 22 cents per gallon. Part of me truly wanted to drive off with my amazingly cheap gas.. and maybe even bring another vehicle in for a fill up! But I couldn't do that. I would have to go into the cashier and tell them.

Author and pastor, Bill Hybels describes character and integrity as who you are when no one is looking. When no one is looking, the temptation is the strongest to cheat, steal, or dabble with sin.

I told the gas station manager and she couldn't believe it. She couldn't believe the mistake had been made.. or that anyone would come in and tell. (So although I didn't commit the sin of stealing, I now have to deal with the sin of pride for being honest. ) It's always something.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emergency Room Visit

Every parent, I suppose, will have the unfortunate occasion of taking that first trip to the emergency room with a child. Ours finally came on Sunday night when JuliAnna rocked backwards on her chair and split open the back of her head. Thanks be to God it was not a life-threatening accident. After a shot of Novocain and a dozen staples, she was back home, safe and sound.
My husband is quite familiar with the process of cleaning out and preparing a wound for stitches. The shot of Novocain, he explained to me, is the problem. It hurt the most. He wanted to prepare her for what would come next.
‘The doctor is going to clean out the boo-boo. It will hurt a lot. But he has to do this to fix it.” he summarized.
“Fix it?”
“Yeah, you have a big boo-boo back there and they gotta fix it with the medicine. It will hurt really bad.. but you can squeeze my hand. Ok?” She nods. I wonder if she understands what we are saying.
I decide to chime in. I explain that when he fixes it, it will hurt but it is important to be very, very still. As I explain this, I can see the fear growing in her eyes so I offer some comedy relief
“When it hurts, you can cry “wahhh” or you can go ‘grrrrr’ whatever sound you wanna make.. but you got to be real still. Do you want to lay down with me while they do this or sit on Daddy?” I asked.
She decided that she would lay down on top of Mommy, with her head facing Daddy and squeezing his hand. The doctor said this would work, but warned me that I would get Novocain on my shirt. I said, “that’s okay with me.” After all the t-shirt was the least of my worries. I wondered if any parent, being told this, jumped up from the bed with objection saying “In that case, kid, you’re on your own, nobody’s staining this brand new shirt.”
As the preparations were being made, time seemed to slow down. I saw her grow more and more afraid. Her face flushed and her eyes were fearful.
She said, “I’m just sad ‘cause I wanna go home.”
We assured her we would go home, but that they had to fix the boo-boo.
“But why it gotta hurt?” she asked. Good question.
Doug explained that to fix it, it would have to hurt but then it would feel better.
“The doctor has to fix it by putting medicine on it,” he explained again.
“Put it on mommy,” she cried softly.
“Mommy doesn’t have the boo-boo, honey,” he replied.
Oh, how I wished I could not only wear a stained shirt for her, but also take on the painful medicine. But all of us in the room knew there was only one path through this situation.
In our lives, sometimes the only way through a situation is the most difficult route. Worse, it’s a route that no one can walk for you.
However, JuliAnna articulated the heavenly solution. What if someone else could walk it for us? What if we could benefit from the “fix” without having to endure the suffering in the process?
God demonstrates his love for us in that he took on our stains and our pains…he even died our death so that we can ‘be fixed’ – have eternal life! Jesus takes our painful medicine, but passes along to us the benefits. May we see anew, each day, the grace of the one who loves us and abides with us always.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Too Much to Remember

I decided to keep a blog because there is just too many wonderful things happening - and I don't want to forget any of them

I just moved to Calvert County from Washington, DC and it is amazing to me how this area is so peaceful, compared to NE DC - where sitting out on the front porch of my house meant watching the ambulances speed toward the Hospital Center. My daughter used to get such joy out of pointing up toward the life-flight helicopters overhead. Now that we have moved to Calvert County, we spend our outdoor time together in relative silence.

This morning we discovered a few blue crabs have a hiding place under the boardwalk by our house. They were wiggling around and that delighted both of us.

Living on the Chesapeake Bay, I get to teach this pre-schooler so many things besides "Don't Touch The Crack Bag" which was our usual lesson in DC. Today, we sat down on the dock and sang to the morning sky. Oh, we could have sang Dock of the Bay, I suppose, but we sang He's Got the Whole World in His Hands. We used to sing it in DC - and I just don't want to forget that even though God feels closer here (surrounded by his majestic beautiful creation).. he really does have the whole world in his hands..