To the West Coast Neices

Your mama posted that picture on Facebook. The one of you with your parents and standing with and Papa Sargent holding the ceremony book. Another event from your life I’ve missed because of the miles and miles in between.

So now you are Senior Soldiers in your church. It’s a big step to sign that Covenant, the promises you’re making but you girls have lived those out already. You’ve been taught well. You’ve spent summers with your Auntie watching her organize a day camp for kids and the after school program she ran helping to make a difference in the lives of others.

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Covenants

Your grandma Hunter (in her better days), uncle Paul and aunt Dawn.

Your grandma Hunter (in her better days), uncle Paul and aunt Dawn.

You’ve lived most of your short lives next door to a Grandma who was tireless in her service to God. You were her Sunbeams and she was proud of you girls. She loved hearing you sing, Jordan, and Maddie, oh Maddie she would be so proud to see and hear you play the piano. I know she would. Even in her dementia, her not knowing you, you visit her and help bring smiles to her face. That’s love girls, because you’ve been loved your whole life.

You had what few have when your great-grandparents moved there and, again, showed you what commitment and faithfulness looked like. You have been in the midst of God’s Soldiers working and serving and loving. And now, you’ve made a public declaration you want to be part of this Army. The world needs this kind of Army. The kind whose fight is done with service to others, giving glory to God.

In concert with Phil Laeger

 

But listen to me girls, this Army is just one of many parts of God’s Kingdom. His workers are many and the most important thing isn’t what you wear to church on Sunday but what you wear in your hearts every day. That’s the most important thing you’ve seen in your family. This is the real covenant to sign. This isn’t about what you do Sunday morning or if you join the band or wave a tambourine but how you live everyday. This is about allowing God to be present in all of your life, to show His presence by how you treat others. It’s about smiling at those who need to see your light today and slowing down to listen to the old person that talks soooo sloooowww.

This Army isn’t perfect, but you know that. You haven’t even graduated school and the future may take you to different places and different churches, if you can imagine that. But this Army needs you. This Army needs your willingness to be part of its mission to meet human need without discrimination and do this in the name of God. It needs you to sing and play the piano and help at Christmas with the food boxes. It needs you to carry on the work however that will look.

The Army may not always be where you find yourselves on Sunday mornings, but it will always be your home. It will always be a mission you are part of because you have been called by God to be part of His service to others. Remember that word, girls: OTHERS.

Five-Minute Friday {mighty}

Every Friday, I link up with Lisa-Jo Baker and a host of bloggers to free write for 5-minutes for the word prompt provided by Lisa-Jo. To join your voice with ours, click here. Ready?

GO

Mighty? Really? What were you thinking Lisa-Jo? I can’t, right now imagine a more difficult word to write about. Mighty implies big and I’m not a “big” girl. I don’t care much for big scenes, big productions or big hair. Nope. Not me. I’ve always tried to be small. Which seems ridiculous to anyone who knows me because I’m a loud girl. Big voice and all of that. So mighty, huh? What am I to do with that?

{press pause}

We lived next to the Mighty Mississippi for three years. I wasn’t impressed. I’ve met a few people of notoriety with mighty voices and still, nothing.

Turns out, mighty isn’t always big. Not the kind of mighty that counts. The kind that is powered by heart and spirit.

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I have sat in an un-airconditioned, make-shift church in Port-au-Prince, sat on hard backless benches filled with people of meager means whose voices were mighty as they prayed and praised and showed the Spirit of a Living God who can be nothing less than mighty.

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I have heard the quiet voice of desperation that could only hope for a mighty healing from a mighty God. Read the pleas for God to answer. The voice of addicts who have declared their life unmanageable and where is the mighty in that?

Turns out the mighty is never found in ourselves but in One Greater. The only One Greater. The Only One who is truly mighty. His Spirit gives might to our voice, to our cries, to our joy. We are His Mighty People.

 

Give me an answer

You could hear the desperate plea in his voice. A family member begging for an answer to this plane that has vanished. Gone like a vapor. Not today. Not in this world. That doesn’t happen. Someone always has an answer.

There’s that black box that’s suppose to play this beep so it can be found but it’s not. The radar – useless. Nothing. No answer.

You can find opinions and speculation but there are no answers for the many hoping for something to hold on to. A flicker of hope their family members are alive.

You can Google everything today. It’s the modern Tower of Babel giving answers in any language at any time. Need an address? Google it. Want to know who won the World Series in 1971? Google it. How about cooking tips or medical questions or family genealogy or when the next harvest moon will be? Google knows it all. Except…this. And we can’t accept, in this Google-age, that there is no answer.

Two months ago, a friend went to the doctor to see why she’d felt so poorly for the past month. Just shy of her 47th birthday, surely it was something simple. Hormonal maybe. Her answer was stage 4 melanoma. Is this answer better than no answer?

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People say God answers prayers and I believe he does but…..But it’s hard to understand sometimes. Is no answer an answer and what about those answers we don’t want. Don’t expect. Is that God? Is it man or coincidence or chance or karma or___?

I believe in God. Him first, him only. His answers, his timing, his silence. This faith thing isn’t easy. There are a lot of questions, but this one is first on our lips: why? And when I don’t know the why it’s little consolation to another to say “God knows”. When a heart is desperate for an answer in this instant-answer world and someone tells us God loves but he’s silent now – where is the comfort? Where is the peace? Where is the answer?

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I could give you scripture, but is this what you want to hear ? Or do you want to know right this moment why your son is an addict or what happened to that plane?

Maybe I spend too much time around folks who aren’t the church going kind. They cast a doubtful eye at our claims that Jesus is enough and He is all we need. It’s easy to doubt when you’re living in a men’s shelter – again. When you’ve tried to pray away your alcoholism or homosexuality or pornography addiction and after you begged God for the umpteenth time, you still crave that drink.

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Wait.

That’s the answer. Wait. It’s hard at first. The hardest thing ever, this waiting for something. You don’t sleep and you pray to God even if you’ve never been sure of His existence. You work and keep busy and you check messages and email a hundred times a day. Your prayers are more like pleading and you do it loud with an ugly tear-stained face until you’re dry. And in this dryness, you begin the waiting.

In this quiet, when my breath is gone and words fail and all seems far away, when desperation grasps at any words to bring relief, not an answer but some kind of calm, now I can hear His words

Pushed to the wall, I called to God;
    from the wide open spaces, he answered.
God’s now at my side and I’m not afraid;

Answers are still absent but the spirit needs to breathe and the poetry of Psalms soothes the weary soul.

I was right on the cliff-edge, ready to fall,
    when God grabbed and held me.
God’s my strength, he’s also my song,
    and now he’s my salvation. (excerpts from Psalm 118 the Message)

God of all, of those who call you Father and those wandering about, God who has mercy on the just and unjust, hear our cries to you. When we beg for answers, show us your peace. When we ask why, give us mercy. When we feel lost and forgotten, give us your presence.

God hears

hope quote

Laura J Dake photography

I read her words, how she is twisted and torn from the inside right out. Most of the time it’s only one word or a few. Enough to let her friends know her heart.

Her brother has cancer. The diagnosis came when he sought answers to a back injury. He was already stage 4. Their world stopped for that moment in time. No air to breathe as their breaths caught and hung for what seemed forever.

Laura

She told me last fall, this woman I don’t know well, this introvert who is more comfortable behind a camera than sharing on Facebook but she needs virtual arms wrapped around her so she calls out through social media. She reaches out with her pain and is answered with prayers for healing, for peace, for comfort. Wordless prayers to our God who knows deep the need.

with brother

photo by Laura J Dake

 

hope tattoo

Laura J. Dake photography #hope

 

hold fast

Laura J Dake photography #hope

She talked about some of his past struggles. The years he’d turned his back on God, went his own way and how they prayed for him and he had returned. Now this. Cancer. Stage 4. He’s up north, she’s in the south. Her only brother, only sibling, and her heart breaks.

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family tattoo

Their family has claimed hope. All of them claiming this faith with that one word tattooed on each of them. HOPE

SHATTERED That was the one word she had on her Facebook. That was enough. Enough to know her heart. This quiet woman who is often somewhere in the background behind a camera lens, her heart is crying, out loud. And God hears.

tattoos

 

All photo’s provided  by and used with permission of Laura J. Dake. Thank you, Laura, for allowing me to share this part of your story. You can find more of Laura’s photography on Instagram at believinginhope.

Maybe we need a ritual or two

You forget how new our country is until you walk in another.

You forget that Christianity is a new religion and others came before it still taking root in this land called holy.

We visited many churches in Israel, walking through in a daily stream of tourist, some kneeling, many lighting candles, most of us just trying to take it all in.

These aren’t like the churches I’ve known. The brass lanterns strung throughout in no particular fashion looking more like a closeout sale of Pier I and surely those kind of thoughts are why we Americans aren’t liked so much.

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

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The stained glass, the frescos and mosaics are beautiful but I don’t get the robes and the crown and swinging another brass thing holding incense and honestly, I don’t get the rituals at all.

The candles are lovely and I saw a mom showing her young son how to put the candle in the sand, to stand it up and push it deep so it would stand. It’s one more ritual I don’t understand.

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Holy Land Tour

 

Holy Land Tour

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Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

 

boy lighting candles

For years I was uncomfortable with the thought of the mysteries of God. I was certain we were to know him and there was to be no mystery. Everything clear. Understood. But now, older and maybe wiser, or at least knowing how can I understand a God who loves me beyond reason? The mysteries of God, yes, I embrace and am thankful for that which I receive but do not understand.

I gave one of the men a small carved fish with the words Jesus on it. I pushed it in his hand, the first day he was back from a relapse. I said, “do you see what it says?” He took his glasses off of his shirt, a ragged T-shirt all he had now. I told him, “It says Jesus. Keep that in your hand. Hold on to it and when things get rough, feel that in your hand and know it says Jesus.”

Maybe we need a ritual or two. If an action, a motion, can turn my thoughts to my Savior, isn’t that good? Isn’t that what he wants? To think on him when things are good, when they are bad, when we are lost and when we know we are found?

He has this way, this God who can be found everywhere. He has this way to get my attention and turn it around on me. To take something that seems silly and empty and make me realize if the heart is right there is purpose in the action.

Israel: update two

The wind is biting cold today, to me, this South Floridian only use to ocean breezes to cool from a scorching sun. The sun here is darting in and out from the clouds and we are half a world away in every way.

Our bus stops at the border to pick up a temporary guide while we are in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is in Palestine territory so we pass through a check point and pick up Jonny who is waiting to show us his hometown. He tells us he is one of few Christians in Bethlehem and he thanks us for coming.

It’s a strange place, al, of this area, where buildings are built on top of buildings again and again. There are no “streets where Jesus walked”.

We visit the Church of the Nativity. Some of these churches are shared by more than one denomination. Often Catholic and Greek Orthodox or Armenian as today. Their rituals as foreign as the language.

Jonny leads us to an area where we wait as it’s an Armenian holiday and the religious men are conducting some kind of liturgy perhaps? There are no congregants, just their chanting song and swinging the incense container.

The church itself is gaudy. Too much of everything. It’s like a Pier One outlet with gold lanterns hanging everywhere. There is no explanations of these symbols but it’s the same we’ve seen in others. Some come to light candles and we wait in the cold, caverness cathedral of plaster, stone and marble.

Finally he calls us a few at a time, pointing, there is the birth place and there, there the manger.

The rugs are on the marble floor and pillows to knees. There are golden candlesticks and a clergy of some kind pointing and ushering out. Next. People are streaming in and out looking at just what I’m not sure.

But they know why people come. They know we all want a piece of this. This place where our Savior was born, we want to be near it, see it, but it isn’t him. The beautiful mosaics and the candles and the prayers tucked in a wall, this isn’t him.

He is more. He will always be more than what we try to make him. He cannot be contained in our tours or cathedrals. Jesus isn’t limited to this area or that and praise God our Father that he is never to be held to any one place but they are within. It is this indwelling that stirs inside when we sit in this olive grove or kneel beside this cut out marble they tell us was his birthplace. Or maybe it was here.

The only place that matters is that place on our hearts. The one that aches when we are lead to Caiaphus’ house and are reminded of the pain Jesus bore for us.

All of these geographical places have reopened the one place where I need him to live and that’s right inside this heart where the winds have blown cold.

We leave tomorrow. Fly home with hundreds of photographs, olive wood manger scenes and camel trinkets. We will carry stories and memories and a fondness for a land that is so very different but so welcoming. And I will think on these things. All of them.

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Up to Jerusalem

We sat in the Garden of Gesthamani with a cool breeze blowing but the sun warming. A couple moved to another area when 31 of us sat in an area that must see gatherings like us daily. It was a noisy place with car horns sounding and a busy city life moving about. There was no solitude or quiet in this place that evokes contemplation.

Our tour guide, while a Jew, has knowledge not only of the prophets and the Torah but also of Jesus, shares some thoughts with us about this area. She has done this many times and has heard the Americans and surely others say how they long for the quiet of the time when Jesus would have been here, in prayer, wrestling with what was to come. The dark and mournful place it must have been and we have walked through the peddlers calling “$1 for 10 postcards” and we move around the other tour and it is nothing like in Jesus day. Until Susan tells us it exactly like His day. The city streets would have been filled at that time because is was festival time and tens of thousands would have filled the streets with their braying donkey’s and clattering pots for the meal they would cook around a campfire they would make. Some would be selling their wares and that time, that life would be the same but different.

Our group pauses for prayer and while different ones offer spoken prayers we begin to hear the call to prayer from the speakers on the mosques and there is a strange dichotomy happening. I thank God for his having all of this sorted out and I need not worry over those bowing to another God. He is God of all, the everlasting to everlasting, and this is His to call and His to love and His give and I am His so I pray thank you to my God. My redeemer.

She says this is a holy city and we call it the holy land and I know it is where Jesus walked and King David before him and Abraham even before. I know that and I feel the weight of a holy solitude in this small olive grove but. But is any holy but Him? Any place, any city? Semantics and I am taking things too literal but it’s me I caution from revering anyone, any place more than the One.

A little more than three days here. This is just the start really. The history was laid in Tiberius and around the Sea of Galilee. We have come up to Jerusalem to know Him more. This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This God of all.

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Least Likely

Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?” John 1:24,25 the Message

Among the tests required for our denomination to accept us as pastors were psychological testing. Henry says it’s to see if people are crazy enough to want to be in ministry. Aptitude, medical, personality, the standard MMPI (don’t ask what it stands for because it’s long and I can’t spell all of it), a whole string of medical and ‘mental’ testing.

with our babies and mama

with our babies and mama

family vacation

family vacation

with friends in our pool

with friends in our pool

After these tests we met with some kind of doctor that I can’t exactly recall but not of the medical variety. A psychologists probably, who discussed what the tests revealed.

To Henry he asked why he never continued in higher education. Why did he stop with an AA degree when his IQ clearly indicated his intelligence.

To me he said, you’d be a good housewife.

I was insulted. Offended. I felt put down and under appreciated.

Not because I think a housewife is less than. I had been just that for 14 years. It was a role I chose and relished, the role only I could fill. But he seemed to fail to see the value in that. It was as though the role of household CEO, event planner, educator and nurturer were completely absent.

Still, God called. Us. Me.

The questioners are always there. Have always been.

It’s been twenty-one years since we left a comfortable life. A life serving in our local church, volunteering with the kid’s school, deciding where we wanted to live, going and coming to our time schedule, making our plans. We left a lot of ourselves for a denomination that would tell us where to live and when to move. We knew it would take us from a place we’d planted deep roots and we knew uncertainty and more unknown was ahead. Still, we answered a call because it wasn’t from man but from God. The one who created the universe, the one who loves without limits, the one who had so faithfully provided for us every step of life. This God called us in a new way. A scary way. How could we not answer his call?

SA pins  Hudsons old pins

 

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So God called a self-employed upholsterer with only an AA degree but a sharp IQ, and God called this stay-at-home mom, a ‘housewife’ who was particularly good at organizing summer vacations, coordinating family-school-church schedules, who volunteered because there was freedom in that, yes, God called us ordinary folk. Like Matthew the tax collector, and Thomas the doubter and the fishermen and the women. God calls us to follow. To follow and teach a Sunday School class. To follow and show love to people you don’t much like. To follow and be a trusted employee. To follow and be known as a man/woman of God.

People say we’re brave and faithful but I’ll tell you the truth. I’m not. Brave is following my way because it’s selfish and only leads to sadness. It doesn’t take much courage to follow a God who knows every part of my being and loves me anyway. My God doesn’t question, he calls. My name. Your name.

Follow me.

Having a moment

It was fleeting. The thought, not the feeling. Sitting in a waiting room I was feeling weak, tired. I felt needy for prayer and for a split second I thought, I should post that on Facebook. “prayers needed”. That’s all. It was never more than a thought because the next thought that quickly entered my mind was, people will get concerned and nothing is wrong and I’ll just look needy and weak. 

That’s just what I am. For this moment. Needy and weak. Although I think I confuse a tired soul for that of a weak one but I didn’t post anything. Because I’m……what?

Because I’ve been the person who has thought those things. Thought less of someone expressing need in a public forum. Suck it up. Move on. Too much drama.

Be Yourself

But we have those moments, you and I. Sometimes they last the day but most of the time they last until the sun shines or a stranger offers a smile or you name your daily gifts or a favorite song comes on the radio. But heavens, just don’t ask for prayer on a social media site unless you…well, unless you want prayer because they will. Oh yes, people you didn’t even know paid attention will pray for you so I ask myself again, why so careful? So guarded?

I’m saving it. Like the boy who cried wolf, why ask for prayer for the everyday moments when I need to save the request for something bigger. Sure, that makes sense! And you know it does. You know just what I mean because it’s what we do. Again and again.

I haven’t lived in a world where people ask for prayer for the everyday because we are, what? We are people of faith and faith means strength and we aren’t the ones who ask for help because we’re the ones who offer it. That is easier, helping another rather than being the one helped.

But I am needy. Every day needing grace, love, belonging, redemption, prayer. I need because I cannot do it on my own. I recognize that more than ever and some days just a little more than the others.

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.        – lyrics Annie S. Hawks

 

Surprised by love

“But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!” Psalm 18:16-19 the Message

Deerfield beach

I wonder if that is the surprising thing to them? To the men who come into our Center, come dragging in their defeat, their hopelessness, their regrets and pride. I wonder if they know they can be loved.

I remember, in grade school, telling mama a boy was picking on me, annoying me and she said that means he likes you. Of course it does. Someone pulls your hair, calls you four-eyes likes you. Why didn’t I figure that?

It’s a mess that starts way back then when we don’t know what to do with our feelings and love gets all messed up.

It’s the way it was in my family, soft and gentle words not shared much, not speaking out loud of love and we all look for love and will take it anyway we can find it even when it isn’t really love.

So here they are, standing in that unknown place, still not free of the effects of whatever they took to numb that pain or make them feel something, anything, but not anything real.

And we tell them they are loved. We share from the scriptures we count as sacred and true and we believe these words but it has to be more than words. Love has to come another way and we have to wait. Wait for them to believe it for they must believe in love before they can accept love.

Oh, it’s a mess. We are a mess. And in this mess, God reached all the way from sky to sea, he pulled us out of the void in which we drowning. He stood us up. That moment of clarity we pray and wait for. We wait and wait because He is teaching us in our waiting. In our waiting He is there loving and waiting too. Waiting for us to believe in love, to recognize real love and to accept that we are lovable.

Surprise me by love today, God. By your love that is pure and unfailing. Sweep me away with your grace that makes me loved.