Monday, December 11, 2017

Claim Peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace.  Peace be with you.  Prince of peace.  Peace is a big part of what we celebrate during the Advent/Christmas season.

I have recently embarked in a personal journey in which I have started seeing a Christian counselor in the hopes that I can find peace in certain aspects of my life.  I find that I wrap myself up in anxiety, grief and angst over situations I have had no control over, situations that are long past that I cannot forgive myself for and my personal least favorite, deep scars from an unkind childhood. 

It is not just me.

This week I solicited prayer requests and in a nutshell almost every single one of them was a direct prayer for peace in different circumstances. Keep in mind that it is only Monday. 

Peace is one of those common place words in Christianity.  It is a fruit of the spirit.  It is a greeting.  It is among the greatest hits in most benedictions. It makes an appearance 429 times in scripture (King James Version). 

It is important. 

So how do we obtain it? 

Well, let us start by trying to understand what we are trying to obtain.
I have learned that in order to feel that I can pray effectively for something that seems as abstract as peace I have to visualize it.  Call it meditation if you want.  But I have to imagine what it looks like so I can understand it with my heart and then, and only then can I pray for it. 

Over the years I have heard multiple times about a story about an art contest that took place.  The contest was to depict a picture of peace.
Artists submitted entries that were so serene.  Pictures of landscapes that would bring a tear to your eye.  They captured so much detail of the clouds, the mountains and meadows during their peak moments of growth and beauty. 

The winner however, was as less than ideal picture of beauty.  The winning picture was of a bare and desolate mountain.  Storm clouds filled with anger and destruction loomed overhead.  But when you looked closely, you would find a solitary tree growing in the midst of this chaos.  When you looked even closer you could see a bird serenely resting on its nest and you presume it is keeping its babies warm. 

THIS has become the visualization I now use to focus my heart on peace. 

After I can visualize it, I begin to reflect on the scriptures that call us to peace. 

In a passage of scripture that is most familiar to me, John 14, Jesus gives us the gift of peace to CLAIM! We are to CLAIM PEACE! IT IS A GIFT FROM JESUS HIMSELF!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Now we know what peace should look like.  We also know that peace is a gift from Christ for us to claim.  Now, how do we claim it?

There is another verse in scripture that was written by the Apostle Paul, to the Christians living in Rome.  But first let us talk about 1st century Rome, because it is relevant. Context is always relevant.

Rome had an amazing cornucopia of Christians.  It had a sizeable split between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  Because of theological disputes they had a lot of infighting.  This caused emperor Claudius to kick them out of Rome.  When Nero took the throne when Claudius died they were permitted back in.  Somewhere in this history the great fire of Rome took place and was blamed on the Christians and they were all persecuted. 

These people had it coming from all sides!!!!  Internal and external.

While our circumstances, in the United States, do not look as bleak as it did for Christians in 1st century Rome.  We do deal with struggles that can come from both internal and external factors. 

We deal with—grief from a variety of losses, anxiety from the world that surrounds us, diseases that lack cures, unexpected circumstances, misunderstandings, betrayal, gossip, self-doubt, depression, the need to forgive, the desire to be forgiven, the seeking of reconciliation, the goodbye we did not get to say, the words we should have said but did not, job loss, broken marriages, car accidents, house fires, not having money for the bills, and the list goes on and on and on….. 

We usually are dealing with something or a combination of somethings.  The only thing we want in these moments is to claim that gift of peace.  We want to be that bird on the next in the midst of the storm.  We want that peace that comes from the Lord. How do we get there?

Paul tells us through Romans 15:13 that peace comes THROUGH the holy spirt.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul also tells us in Philippians how to ask for it.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by PRAYER and PETITION, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the PEACE OF GOD, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds IN CHRIST JESUS.” Philippians 4:6-7

We HAVE to ask God for peace in all circumstances.  We CANNOT claim the gift and we CANNOT live in peace if we do not first, seek it from God.  Paul also says that we have to do it with a thankful heart. 

It is hard to have a thankful heart when we go through so much and are filled to the brim with so much darkness.  But, when we go through the trials, we do have a lot to be thankful for.

Our bird, she lived in a desolate location.  But she had shelter of the tree and a nest to call home.  She found peace in the storm that was coming because she was secure in what God had provided her.  If she had lifted her concerns to God with this thankful heart then whom shall she fear/what shall she fear?  Her heart and mind will be guarded by the Prince of Peace himself!

As we get ready to light the candle of peace during our Advent season, I will be in prayer for those that are reading this that need to find peace.  My prayer will not be that peace is bestowed upon you.  My prayer will be that YOU WILL CLAIM the gift of peace that was already given to you from God, through HIS Son, Jesus.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Final Goodbye-A Legacy

When I was about 5 or 6 years old we moved to a new house.  The two houses were literally just a few blocks apart.  This was not the first time we had moved, but it was certainly the most memorable of all the moves because of the swing set. 

My dad had a dilemma.  And if you ever put up a swing set you know the dilemma I am speaking of…how do you move this thing and put it back up again as simply as possible?

I don’t know how long he contemplated a solution but he settled on the simplest one. 
Don’t disassemble it.

At this stage my father owned a pub and managed a club, so he knew that he had a resource! His bar flies! He rounded up four of them and promised them a pitcher of beer and a hot meal if they helped him move this swing set.

Imagine the face of those living along those few blocks as four bar flies were walking down the street together, each carrying one leg of this massive metal swing set. 

By the time they arrived at our new house they had a police escort because someone actually called the cops because they thought that these four guys were trying to steal the swing set in broad day light. 

Once it was delivered to its new home the four bar flies AND the police escort were invited into the house to sit down for a meal.  I am sure that left the new neighbors with a few head scratching questions. 

This story is one of many colorful moments of my life with my father.  Since it was just he and I, almost all of my experiences of childhood and young adulthood come complete with a dad story. This particular story always reminds me that the simple solutions are usually outside of the box solutions. A concept I probably would not have been able to understand if I had not seen it in action.  It is a big part of his legacy and a piece of him that I can pass onto my daughters.

John 14:1-9

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my father’s house there are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you maybe also.  And you know the way to where I am going.  Thomas said to him. “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you had known me, you would have known my father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Phillip said to him, “LORD, show us the father and it is enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, “Show us the Father?”

The ENTIRE chapter of John 14 is the only solid piece of scripture I remember growing up with.  My father used to say that his dad memorized it and he memorized it because he was taught that all you needed to know about Jesus came from this passage.  And before you inquire, No, I have not memorized it. 

I never really understood John 14….or any scripture for that matter.  Even though I had read it and believed in the existence of God I did not understand how to have a relationship with HIM.  They were simply words on a page.  I remember my dad trying to describe to me what faith was like and how you just know what God’s presence feels like.  But I never really felt IT or grasped what IT was.

I was about 18 when I finally started to understand. And it was by way of my friend Ben.  He and I bonded over Tarantino movies, stupid jokes and gas station cappuccinos.  One day we began speaking about faith and the subject of scripture came up and I confessed that I never really “got IT.” I believed in God and accepted Jesus but I never really “got IT” meaning I never really felt a connection.  In this conversation I brought up John 14 and he handed me a bible and we read it together, out loud.

Once we got to verse 9 it was like the heavens opened up and a light hit me.  It sounds very “touched by an angel” but there is no other way to describe that moment.  My a-ha moment was that statement from Jesus to Phillip.  It has now become a statement from Jesus to Carolyn:  “HAVE I BEEN WITH YOU SO LONG, AND STILL YOU DO NOT KNOW ME, CAROLYN?”

It was then, in that moment, that I say that I first was able to understand God’s grace—though I did not know it was called grace. In that instance, my ENTIRE life began to make more sense.  All of the bad times, all of the good.  It all began to make perfect sense!

God was THERE from the start! Undoubtedly!

Things were not perfect from that moment.  A lot of other stuff had happened and I staggered a lot.  But from that point on I finally began to understand what a relationship with Jesus was like and it was something I wanted.  I jokingly say that during this time I was playing Marco Polo with Jesus because I was still rather blind and had no clue what to do or where to go.  But, God would open my eyes.

My father received his cancer diagnosis in September 2001 and it was a terminal one.  He knew that he had just a few months to live.  I was young and his only family.  I had NO clue on how to deal with the situations that would arise.  How do you even prepare for this circumstance at 40 much less 23? 

The first time God stopped being abstract was when I made a stop to visit my dad before heading back to my base.  My dad had just been released from the hospital and he had a home nurse coming to help him with a drainage tube and was supposed to begin chemo treatments.  Things seemed okay, under the circumstances. 

When I went into visit my dad I found him crying and upset because of a complication with the drainage tube.  I felt powerless.  I had no idea what to do.  Then that old favorite “Just Ask God” came to me.  In the span of time that lasted about 5 seconds I had a sincere come to Jesus moment.  

And I had this actual thought:
“What is God seriously going to be able to do in this situation?”
Followed immediately by:
“Just shut up and ask him!”

So I prayed.  Honestly, I am unsure of what happened after that.  It was a blur and I came to at the hospital, with my father in the front seat looking just as stunned as I was. 

We were in the hospital and he had a horrible doctor.  Worst bedside manner and no hope of a solution in sight.  He was told to simply deal with it and go back home. 

Again the thought to pray came back to me again.  This time I did not question it.  I bowed my head and said a prayer and as soon as I said AMEN my father’s home nurse was coming into the ER.

In the moments following my first prayer I apparently left her a message telling her where we were going.  Here is the kicker…she could have just gone to the next stop on her list BUT she came to the hospital! She did not have to do that.

She looked at my dad’s drainage situation and spoke to a couple ER nurses and then she turned into the medical MacGyver. His solution was corrected and my father felt relief.

Then it happened.  She looked at my dad and asked,
“Can I pray with you?” And we prayed

Let’s go back to John 14

John 14: 25-27
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

My father died in 2002.  His battle with cancer was short and brutal. In those final months and days he was concerned about things I was about to face and how I would deal with them.  He felt sadness because he would not be with me.  And not to lie, I was scared too.  The last day that I saw my dad, it was March 13, 2002. He was sitting on the edge of his bed and his gaze pierced me.  I knew and he knew that this was the last moment.

What do you say when you are standing right there on the edge of a final goodbye? 

In John 14, Jesus was saying his final goodbye to his disciples. 

Some people never get this moment while actually knowing it is the moment.  It is heavy when you know that this is it and the end is near. 

Thankfully, this journey up to this point had taught me a BIG lesson. 

“Pray first and ask questions later.”

And that is what I did. And once again, God answered.

I looked at my dad and told him, for the first time, with full confidence.  You know that confidence that ONLY comes from the Lord.  I told him, that I was going to be okay because God was with me and that it was now time for him to rest and finally meet Jesus.  I told him that I loved him and that I would see him again one day. 

He shed one single tear as his eyes went from a state of fear to a state of peace. 

In his final days his biggest concern wasn’t if he would die. 
We all die after all.

His final concern was where he was going and if he would see his daughter again. 

God answered that for both of us in that moment. If that isn’t Grace I don’t know what is!
In Jesus’ final moments and final words with his disciples He tried desperately to get them to understand who HE was.  He tried to leave them with hope.  He tried to leave them with that recap of all that was important about what he taught during their time together. He wanted to leave them confident that God was with them so they would continue on as His legacy.

I was blessed to have a final goodbye with my dad. 

Many of us are NOT blessed with knowing when we will take our final breath.  This means in a literal since, every moment could be our last.  That should prompt us to ask ourselves the question:

What legacy am I leaving behind?  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

We Three Kings

Before the written word stories were transferred by traditional storytelling, music and art.  Christmas has been and still is a focal point for all three of these elements.  Personally, in modern context I would say that these are the real gifts of our Christmas heritage.  Traditionally speaking, however, the three gifts of Christmas are gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Christmas hymn, We Three Kings, was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857.  It was written as part of a Christmas pageant for his niece and nephew.  John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of an Episcopal Bishop and followed in his father’s footsteps and had a long career in the church. 
Learning that this song was written for a children’s Christmas pageant helped me understand the flow.  Putting the story to music helps children memorize….at least in my experience.  However, the repetition of the chorus has made that the most memorable piece of this song and because of that so much has gotten lost. 

At least once each year I hear someone ask or make a joke about the three gifts and indicate that they do not know why they gave such “ridiculous” “useless” “non-sense” “weird” “bizarre” “odd” “funny sounding”….gifts.  The funny thing is if people stopped to actually listen to the song they would know and understand the meaning behind these gifts. 

If first want to point you to way of the scripture context and it does not come from the birth story.

Isaiah 6:1-6
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
    and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and exult,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

The word of the Lord was known beyond the nation of Israel.  The Magi arriving to visit the new born King illustrates this point.  There is a lot of intriguing finds regarding the history of these characters.  Who were they? Where are they from? How many were there?  You see we assume there were only 3 because that is how many gifts were presented.  No indication is ever made of how many actually arrived.

The best guess on where these individuals came from was Persia.  According to “Smith’s Bible Dictionary”

“These wise men from Persia were the most like the Jews, in religion, of all nations in the world. They believed in one God, they had no idols, they worshipped light as the best symbol of God.”

I am only assuming here but, it could be with the overly repetitive chorus of the tune that Hopkins may have subscribed to a similar theology as he wrote:

“O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.”

If they were familiar with the words found in Isaiah then they would have known the ideal gifts to bring.  Well, 2 of them.

“Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, GOLD I bring to crown Him AGAIN, KING FOREVER, ceasing never, OVER US ALL TO REIGN.”

By missing the verse and focusing on the chorus you can easily miss the entire purpose for gold.  It is the symbol of royalty.  The fact that other nations are bringing gold to honor this child when the people of Israel were not is astoundingly profound.  It is the start of showing that Jesus is not just here for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of saving the world.  The Magi that honored HIM with Gold was the first, outside of the initial birth story, to say, “Yes God, we accept and acknowledge this child as our King!”  They did this BEFORE the first miracle was performed by Jesus.  They did this solely on faith.  To me that is pretty astounding. 

“Frankincense to offer have I.  Incense owns a Deity nigh.  Prayer and praising all men raising, Worship Him, God on high.”

The definition of Frankincense is far from attractive.  It is a vegetable resin that is used for spiritual fumigation.  This was the phrase preferred by the Smith’s Bible Dictionary.  A simple google search on this topic lead me to “Got Questions” and interestingly this site gave me a better perspective of the importance of this gift.  Their answer is based out of The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel.

Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving Himself up, analogous to a burnt offering.

Until I read this I never tied in this gift with the willingness to become a sacrifice.  This was a rather intense realization and simply put my mind is blown by this connection.  Since I became a mom, I often think of Mary during Christmas and Easter. Thinking of her with this new nugget of knowledge and I am rather overwhelmed thinking of her in terms of being the mother of an young child who has willingly come to this earth knowing that their fate is to be sacrificed.  I cannot even begin to imagine. 

“Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume breaths a life of gathering gloom.  Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

As the case with songs with multiple verses the last one usually is sung or remembered the less often.  When it is sung it is usually at church and with it being the 3rd verse is subjected to the rampant watch checking of those wondering if they are going to miss kick off.  But, myrrh is the most somber of the three as it sings of the death of Jesus. 

It should be noted that Myrrh was NOT mentioned in Isaiah.  So why bring it?  I cannot find a straight answer on this.  Was there another prophecy out there that mentioned this third element?  This was such an intense gift to provide a young child as it essentially becomes the first earthly recognition of his death.  Why else would they have brought it? This is something to ponder about the next time you hear the song. 

Again, I am taken back to Mary.  At the very start of his life, her young son, is given a gift that is used on a corpse. Yet another reminder of what is to come for her baby boy.  I get overwhelmed by the thought of this.  It would be the compared today to a stranger showing up to your kids 3rd birthday party bringing a gift certificate to the local funeral home.  Very sobering thought during the food comas we endure during these days of holly jolly festivities.

We sing songs about “Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men” “Jingle Bells” and a whole slew of songs romanticizing snow and Santa.  We focus so much on the birth of the Christ child and the hope that it brings that we forget, at least until Easter, that this hope comes with a price, a heavy burden for such a small child and an unimaginable sacrifice for His parents.  “We Three Kings” does its part, in the abyss of bubble gum pop tunes, to remind us that Jesus was born for one purpose, to be a living sacrifice to save the world.  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reclaiming Christmas

There was once something Magical about the Fourth Thursday in November.  You would start the day off with a lazy morning and usually a nice breakfast.  Then you would settle in for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  

While watching the spectacular sampler of Broadway Shows, themed floats and oversized balloons you would peel potatoes, butter baste the turkey and snap green beans.  Once you saw the Radio City Rockettes perform a seemingly effortless kick line and Santa cross the threshold of the parade you just knew that is was FINALLY the Christmas season! You were then free to shower and set the table for an afternoon of family and friends.

After dinner was over, then and only then could you FINALLY open up that turntable and pull out those dusty old records filled with Christmas Standards sung by the likes of Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Dolly and Kenny!  

Once everyone left and the clean-up was done you pulled out the Christmas Tree and would begin decorating it and filling the tree up with homemade ornaments made by little hands across generations.  After you would make the long distance phone calls to family across the miles and say we miss you and love you.  Then you made some hot chocolate and surrounded the televisions for whatever Christmas movie special happened to be on that night.

There was something special in the anticipation for this most wonderful time of the year!

Today this version of the holidays would be considered fictional.  Something you would see only in a hallmark movie or in a Norman Rockwell painting.  What is interesting to me is what is now considered fictional or an exaggeration is a series of vivid memories from my childhood.  What happened?

I have no clue and I do not want to even begin to answer it.  All I know is that Halloween ended less than 2 weeks ago and Thanksgiving is not even 2 weeks away and I have been contemplating how I am going to decorate the house for Christmas and if this coming Monday or Tuesday will be a good day to pull out our Christmas Boxes.  This is all because I want to get the house decorated for Christmas in time for Thanksgiving.  WHAT!!?!?!?!

I stopped myself this morning as I was looking at the lectionary for 2018 and was reading the scriptures for the Epiphany season.  It lead me to the We Three Kings Christmas hymn.  For the first time in a long while I stopped to read the lyrics and contemplate their meaning.  It was sobering. 

In that moment, I personally decided to halt my Christmas prep this year and kick it old school.  Put it up after Thanksgiving and take it down after Epiphany. I also decided that it maybe enlightening to start a journey to decode some of the Christmas songs that are already playing and some of the traditions we share during these holiday season.  

I plan to write about it and if you feel so inclined I hope that you would join me on the journey as I try to reclaim so of that old Christmas magic and it’s real meaning that seems to have been lost to the ages. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Out the Window

I have been working on message preparation for this class I am taking to become a certified lay speaker.  I have been praying for direction because, I am CLUELESS! Of course, God has a sense of humor, I was led to Acts 20. Specifically the story of Eutychus.

"On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.  And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.  But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him." And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while until daybreak, and so departed.  And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted." 

I have found that most use this scripture to warn you against falling asleep in church or to warn a pastor against long sermons. But, the message my heart received from this was unconventional.

Paul was preaching and preaching and preaching. Notice they say he prolonged his think teaching lecture or sermon that takes you beyond being late for the start of the football game.  Eutychus was trying and trying and trying to listen.  He tried so hard and Paul preached so long that it simply exhausted poor Eutychus.  He fell asleep and fell out a window.

It was a HOT MESS!  

THANKFULLY, once Eutychus fell out of the window things changed quickly.  Paul scooped him up and held him and by the power of faith in Jesus healed Eutychus and he was once again alive.  

After this incident Paul continued teaching BUT his methods changed.  Paul went from giving a lecture to having conversation.  Once daylight came Paul left for his next stop and those that attended left renewed and celebratory in what transpired during the night.  

It is amazing to me how much this story changed the moment Eutychus fell out of the window! 

The story can change for us as well.  

Currently, I identify with Eutychus because I tried so hard in certain areas that it caused me to, metaphorically, fall out of the window.   Once the dust settled from the fall I began feeling like all of the ministry that I had been a part of was an epic failure.  In a sense, spiritually dead and broken.

Because God is God, he provided a way onward through Paul in this story.

Sometimes it is best to reevaluate what you are doing.  If it is not working or has a negative result then change it. We get wrapped up in our "task" that sometimes we lose sight that what is important is our action and our connection.  When that young man fell out of the window it was a signal that Paul needed to tweak his approach...he was literally killing them after all! And Paul being smart because...well..he is Paul...changed it up and the hot mess turned into one of the greatest miracles in the book of Acts.  

If this story is not a picture of GRACE I don't know what is.  Both were given a second chance. Eutychus was given a second chance at life, while Paul was given a second chance to make a connection.  But what is really awesome is that WE ALL GET SECOND CHANCES..and THIRD AND FOURTH AND FIFTH.....Are we extending this grace to others and more importantly are we claiming this for ourselves? 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Swim Mom Stretch Marks

Her first heat was called for first call. **did not hear it**
Her first heat was called for second call.  **heard it and began climbing over other people in a crowded gym**
We get to the swimmers line up area.  **her event is not lined there.**
Asking people who seem to be ignoring me, where they are.  **finally get an answer and they are at the pool.**
Get to the pool at the exact moment she is supposed to be on the block.  **rush to get her on and ready for the start**
Buzzer goes off and in she goes. 

That was my first experience as a swim mom at a swim meet.  There is NOTHING in the world that prepared me for this moment of launch.  

18 months ago we made the decision to put Sophie into private swim lessons.  She started swim lessons as an infant.  She took classes off and on until one day my husband and I realized that this was simply not working.  We sat down and looked at all the programs offered and we finally realized that our best value and best shot at getting our daughter to OUR goal was to spring for private lessons. Now, keep in mind, OUR goal for her was simply survival.  If she fell in we wanted her to know how to swim. Simple as that.

There are some stinkers in the world of swimming.  Teachers that do it simply for a job and not because they love it.  I actually prayed that Sophie would be given the perfect teacher.  Not a good teacher or a great teacher, but the teacher that is perfect for HER and that is what we received when Teresa swam into our lives!

Teresa is/was an amazing ally in this endeavor because we were not sure what to expect.  She became more than a simple swim instructor.  She helped Sophie understand the mechanics of swimming and worked with her on building her confidence in the water.  She helped us, as parents, achieve a level of patience with the process.  Some things she could learn, others she would have to figure out on her own.  She helped us, as a family, find and set goals and work towards them.  She became a life coach in a sense.

She worked with Sophie and set goals that were ideal for her and that she could achieve.  First goal, water slide/yellow band.  She hit that goal and after that was a thing I knew we were green band and discussing what next.  It seemed unreal we were "done."

We kept her in swim lessons to build on her skills and then in December at her yearly check up we realized she was small for her size.  Not sure what to do here, we once again discussed it and decided that perhaps swimming may help her build some muscle that would help here.  It seemed to be a more healthy approach than simply over feeding.

Once again, we had another discussion with Teresa and Sophie and decided that we would set a goal for swim team.  In a matter of 2 weeks she was in a 10 week program called Mini Barracudas.  This program gave a sample of swim life for kids and families while helping them refine some of the skills she already had.  In addition to the coaching, she would get to experience a swim meet and the feel of the chaos and competition.

I thought this was a great deal! My only concern was the competition.  How would she handle it?  How would I handle it? As a mom the last thing you want to do is terrify your child or put them into a situation that just doesn't suit them.  This competition thing was an unknown and something I could not prepare her for.  I just had to see what happened.

Well, you already know those first chaotic moments from the perspective of the frantic mother.  Sophie's experience was something totally different.  In the midst of my internal freak out, she jumped right into that pool and swam to the end, hopped out and was a calm as I have ever seen her. Her first words to me, "That was fun, when do I go again?"

And she did go again.

This time instead of a rush, we had a little delay.  For me, that meant time to have another internal freak out.  I wondered what she was thinking and how she was internalizing this room full of people watching her.  I wondered if she was fearful of what she may not have noticed before.  I wondered if she was worried about how she would finish.  I wondered so much in a few seconds that I finally stopped when I looked up and I saw this......

**No words necessary**

When you are pregnant, and, ahem...sometimes are blessed with these things called stretch marks.  They can be dainty little steaks or in my case it can look like a 18 wheeler rolled over you and then went in reverse to make sure the job was done right!

While stretch marks appear to have simply popped up overnight they actually took some time.  Just when your skin stretches from carrying this baby to the point where it is unimaginable that it can stretch anymore, it does.  When it does it leaves a scar.  Many of us view these scars as embarrassing. While others of us see that our body did something extraordinary and view them as a badge of honor.

What on earth does this have to do with my kid swimming?  A lot actually!

I realized that stretch marks happen beyond the birth of the child, though they are not visible.  We parents are blessed with the burden of emotional stretch marks.  While on this journey we prepare our kids and selves for a moment or a rite of passage and we are stretching and growing.  However, when the time comes, and we launch our kids into that moment, we have to let go. When we finally let go of our grip we find that we are left with a little stretch mark on our heart and soul.

From there, we hold our breath and pray that we did it all right and that our kids are going to swim and not sink.

As I write this we are preparing for the last meet of the summer season for Sophie's summer team. We started this journey to simply give our daughter some basic survival skills.  From there she worked hard, set her own goals, remained coach-able and gave all she had in the moment--She LOVES this sport.  18 months from the start of this journey she was asked to swim in the champ meet medley relay for the 8 and unders. It seems unreal and it is something that I never anticipated or planned on. We are now well on our way with this new journey and I am still gaining stretch marks in this experience. I still (and always will) hold my breath from the moment she jumps in until the moment she jumps out.  But I am glad that I let her jump!

Friday, June 9, 2017

$#!+ Happens: Grace Extended

One Sunday I was going to church to lead the women’s Sunday school class.  This was a DVD driven class and as a general rule I would screen the video before the class watched it so I could be prepared for the discussion questions.  Well, this one particular Sunday, I arrived and was setting up and realized that I left the DVD at home in my DVD player. 

What I thought was a very seasoned Christian woman loudly and sarcastically exclaimed, ‘WELL THANK GOD WE NOW KNOW YOU ARE NOT PERFECT.’

This took me aback.  Later on I will understand that this temperament was to be expected from this individual.  But at the time it embarrassed me and stumbling through that class was one of the more difficult hours of my christian teaching experience.

After the class, another woman, very sweet lady, gave me a piece of advice.  She said, “There will always be people like that, looking to find your faults and point them out to you like it is a reason to celebrate.  You have to ignore that and remember to extend yourself grace in your mistakes and in your shortcomings. And also remember to extend grace to others with the same respect.” 

This incident occurred over 5 years ago.  However, over the past year I have been reflecting on it more and more as I face new challenges and work with new individuals and make many, many more mistakes.

As a Christian I strive to be Christ like.  I look to the gospels and the book of acts and see these disciples, who were flawed and imperfect and I do my best to use them as examples.  After all, as a Christian, I too am a disciple….at least that is what my pastor reminds us of daily…

On this current leg on my Journey with Jesus, I am seeking the answer to:

My answer, as of now, is not academic.  It is simply my current coping mechanism.

I have stopped apologizing when life happens and plans have to change.

This week I was hit with a massive allergic reaction to poison ivy, bug bites and an unknown allergen.  This has pushed me to go on steroids and a lot of antihistamines….not to mention being slathered with anti-itch lotions.  It has made some rather simple tasks difficult. 

When my kids were infants, more times than I can count, there was an epic poop explosion that meant we were going to be an hour late.

These are just a two examples of how life has gotten in the way of the tasks I have had set before me. 
What do we do? We feel shame or embarrassment because we are late, or that we cannot get these resources completed as we hoped, or that we cannot make a certain function.  We feel we have to apologize for life interruptions or being less than perfect.


My coping mechanism has been to remind myself, sometimes daily, that this is God’s plan and NOT mine! 

The day I left the DVD at home I received a lesson in grace that I would fall back on years later.  The teaching happened, just not in the way I planned it, but in the way that God designed it.  I was to be the student that day.

The poison ivy outbreak, I have had to put any pride aside and take my kids to commitments with a rash all over my face and arms.  I have had to go into meetings looking like this and I have had to drop the ball on some tasks because of how tired I was and how sensitive my skin was (reaction to meds).  The world is not going to fall apart because a communication strategy had to be altered or an email was delayed.  God will still do what he has to do.  It is a tangible reminder that the ministry is NOT on my shoulders but in God’s hands. I won't even go on to explain how I remotely related to the lepers in scripture thanks to this experience.

Poop explosions taught me the most…oddly…it is a reminder of that old saying “Shit happens.”  It was a tangible experience that shows that truer words have never been spoken by man! “Shit happens” and you have 2 choices.  Clean up the baby and leave late or make a bigger mess by taking the poop slathered child into the car and to the event…..the choice is a no brainer.  Deal with the “shit” the rest will wait. 

The whole point is this, if you are in the middle of your own storm and being overly hard on yourself, STOP IT! Do not apologize because life unavoidable stands in your path.  Deal with it and then get to gettin'. 
And if you are on the sidelines and you happen to witness a massive poop explosion (metaphorically I hope) show your Christian maturity and extend grace and encourage that person that God's still got this and will work it all out. 

Blessed are you if you do them. John: 13:13-17

“How do you do so much?”

I get this question about once a week. 

Usually it comes with a side of scorn and judgement. The more this happens the more I realize that this has little to do with me and more to do with the person asking. 

The person asking me expresses their concerns regarding the toll that my volunteering maybe making on specific aspects of my personal life. The conversation usually goes like this….

“Oh, your husband must hate that you do so much.”


“I am sure your children hate that you are away from them so often.”

My replies often shock them. 

“No, my husband is good.  He loves me and wants me to be happy and helping makes me happy.  When he notices it does not he will encourage me to quit. Oh and he will help me too if I need it.”


“Nope, my kids actually help and honestly, my kids are pretty proud of the work we do.  They can say that we helped do this. It has really taught them a lot about the world they live in.”

Now, back to the original question—minus the judgement, “How do you do so much?”

Sometimes I think the “How” is mixed with a “Why.”

We have a small amount of time on this earth.  We have a small amount of time in each season of our life. Why not make a difference by doing what we can in the moment we are in?

I have a quote in my office that says “Someday is not a day of the week.”  I subscribe to that.  I cannot understand putting off helping the mission with the needs of today, if I have the resources.  I cannot understand putting off helping the church with something I have the skill set for and would be rather simple for me.  I cannot understand putting off helping the school when it falls in line with what I am doing already…kill two birds with one stone.  I cannot understand putting off helping the swim team sell t-shirts when I am just sitting there waiting for practice to end.  I cannot understand NOT giving of myself until it hurts just a little. 

In other words, the how/why is answered by my lack of understanding of how we can be idle in a broken and hurting world that is moving so fast and with a life that is over with in the blink of an eye. 

Now, if the how/why is more a question of motivation, well that is simple.  I LOVE MY JESUS!
Maundy Thursday is my favorite day on the church calendar.  It was the day that Jesus provided the most tangible example of what being a Christian is all about.  He did this by washing feet.  This is something I wish we would do more of today…literally and metaphorically. 

Let’s look at the scripture from John 13:13-17:

“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who set him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Jesus had a pretty large following.  He had a group of men and women who wanted Jesus to take the throne and be a literal king, in the earthly sense.  This meant they expected him to act like an earthly king. Jesus could have simply sat back and been served he said no.  He said, no! I am going to serve you!

After he was done serving he then tells them to serve one another.  Another way of saying LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. He reminds them that they are not better than any other and that they are to serve all.  The biggest thing he adds at the end.  If you do these things YOU will be blessed!

What a way to turn the world on its ear! Being a king with servants should not be the goal, but being the king who serves should be the goal!

“Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.” was a statement popularized during the last election.  However, this was initially spoken by John Wesley, the father of the United Methodist Church.

Being a new Methodist, I have really loved learning about this man, John Wesley.  He was not an opulent speaker.  He was not well liked.  He actually was run out of the state of Georgia! A very colorful character to say the least.  But he had a way of practicing what he preached and it turned into a movement!

He basically said, we are not going to stand by and be idle.  We are going to move forward and serve the world we live in, and do it IN THE NAME OF JESUS!  In other words, he basically reminded the Christian community of what Jesus taught the disciples during the foot washing.  SERVE OTHERS. BE A DISCIPLE.

This is my motivation.  This is why I do what I do.  This is how I do what I do. And my blessing, well it is that I can have the opportunity to do these things in honor of my God and that I can do them with my family.  I really do feel that this is the only real way to share my faith with my family, my community and the world. 

Claim Peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace.  Peace be with you.  Prince of peace.  Peace is a big part of what we celebrate during the Advent/Christmas season...