Encouraged

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2)

It was not the best weekend. I kinda had a pity party…

sigh…

On Saturday, the basement drain overflowed. The result? A bunch of stinky, filthy towels. Many, many hours later, we had a clean laundry room floor and a huge stack of clean towels… And a drain that worked, after multiple trips to the hardware store by my beloved Bearded Spouse.

On Sunday, I worshiped at my friend Dee’s church (and enjoyed it!) But it was also World Communion Sunday, and it was difficult, quite honestly, to not be the one presiding at the Table of Grace and Welcome. I had to reflect and wonder… if I would be serving in a congregation again

When I got home, I was feeling “itchy” and needed something to do. The hometown pro football team was losing (again)… I decided I had procrastinated on one task long enough and it was time to suck it up, and git ‘er done! I began to sort and pack away items from my former church office that were piled all over our living room. This included the “creative stuff” of a pastor: special paraments and altar cloths I’d created or collected. Stones and candles. Strings of mini-lights. Liturgies and service planning notes.

I sorted. I cried. I despaired. While I was at it, I cleaned out an old desk and weeded out more books. And as I was sorting, I found these:

One was a book given to me by Dana, one of God’s best ever “balcony people.” I survived and thrived in seminary and my early years of ministry because of Dana’s encouragement. The other one was a “Celebration Journal” given to me on my ordination day, a little more than 10 years ago. I re-read Andrea’s words of dedication. I found entries I had made in the midst of all sorts of challenges. I tucked them into a special place on my desk to reread and use later. I paused to thank God for these two women… their ongoing gifts of encouragement continued to bless me, years later!

And I realized there are so many more encouragers: My husband and daughters. Family. Professors. RevGal friends. Coworkers. Friends. Former parishioners. A wave of thankfulness came over me.

I moved to my next task… I went to clean and pack away my stoles that were not in season. I wondered how long I would be waiting until I would regularly wear them. Then I found this one…

It was given to me in August by my former senior pastor, Jill, and the head of our church council, Regina. Their cards were folded inside. Their words reminded me of the Call on my life, that God has scattered the seeds of the Gospel through me and would continue to do so. They promised to place this stole on me when God next Calls me to a church.When and where God will call me next, I don’t know. But God does.

The lesson came home, sweet and clear:

Not only does God know what’s next in our lives, God brings friends, companions, and encouragers into our lives to help us… persevere. believe. hope. trust. rejoice. and… (dare I say it?) keep the faith as we WAIT. And even more importantly, that I offer MY words of encouragement to them.

I am so grateful for those who have been with me for this journey of service and celebration, and in this journey of change and waiting. And beyond grateful to the God of encouragement who continues to lead…

Thanks be to God!

Remembering… 24 years ago…

October 1995 The NAMES Project displayed on the National Mall in its entirety. Photo from https://www.aidsquilt.org/

24 years ago…

24 years ago I walked the mall with my 3 month old daughter in my sling. I had heard that The NAMES Project Quilt, a memorial of people who died from AIDS, would not be shown in its entirety again. I wanted to see it, so I packed a diaper bag and the baby, and headed down via Metro to the National Mall.

I remember that it was a pleasant fall day, not too hot, with bright sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. As I exited the Metro in front of the Smithsonian Castle I was enveloped in the crowds of people, and the recitation of all of the names. Family members and friends signed up to read a portion of the list. The names… on and on… read by voices cracked with grief.

I walked some (not all) of the quilt. At one point I stopped to feed my daughter, watching people go by. I changed her diaper and started walking again. She was a little fussy, so I rocked her in the sling, slowly gazing at the quilt, each 3×6 foot panel representing a life, a friend, a family member, a lover. They stretched on endlessly. I found the index of panels and located a panel from a friend from college. I heard stories from strangers. I cried with them.

At one point, a young man rushed up to me, tearful and angry, “WHY would you bring a baby to this? To THIS? She won’t remember!” I felt his anger, his sadness, and possibly a little bit of fear. We started talking, and he shared his story, and his partner’s story. He showed me his lover’s panel (I had just walked by it.) I looked at him and said, “She won’t remember. But I will tell her she was here. And then she will know…”

That baby, now 24, is a teacher. Statistically, that young man is probably dead. I find that sobering… And if we went to see the AIDS Quilt today it would be over 50 miles long. According to the CDC, (which estimates these statistics):

  • in the US – 38,739 people were diagnosed as HIV+ and there were 15,807 deaths
  • in the world – 36.9 million people with HIV+ and there were 940,00 deaths

While the incidence of HIV+ is decreasing, the prejudice against individuals who are diagnosed continues. As it was in the 1980s, access to adequate healthcare, including early diagnosis and treatment, is dependent on where you live, your socioeconomic status, your race, and your sexual identity. Antiretroviral medications can be expensive and have debilitating side effects. And finding a physician and care team who will support a patient who is HIV+ and their loved ones is a challenge in some parts of the country.

Even more difficult is finding a church… sadly. If you live in just about any city in America, or attended a PRIDE parade, you’ve heard a street preacher condemn people with AIDS/HIV and speak words that are cruel and homophobic. (I won’t quote them here. They get enough airtime.) The God of mercy and grace who Called me to ministry is not a punitive, angry God.

So on this anniversary of The NAMES Project display on the National Mall, I hope you’ll reflect for a moment on what we could still do as individuals, as churches, and as a nation. We have a long, long way to go.

Surprised by Compost

From my compost bin, a volunteer squash vine is happily thriving and meandering over the edge of our lawn. The blossoms are huge and colorful, inviting our resident pollinators to drop by. It’s the unexpected and hope-filled Voice of the Divine:

The seed is healthy: the vine will give its fruit. The land will give its produce; the heavens will give its dew. I will give the remnant of this people all these things.
Zechariah 8:12 (CEB)

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted.

TBTG.

Life is messy

It started with a whim… I wanted to get some tomatoes canned this year, and I knew the season was coming to a close. The boxes of “seconds” were too tempting, the price just right. And… after two sessions of processing tomatoes… there’s still some left. (Tomato sandwiches, anyone?)

Then I made salsa and homemade tomato sauce…

It’s a beautiful sight when all the jars are lined up…

It’s the aftermath of canning that sucks.

Ah well…

Like just about everything in my life, I’m out of time, patience and the discipline to squeeze in all the things I want to do, let alone the things I must do.

But my needs are met. My heart is full. My body is ready for another day. And I know that I am beloved.

TBTG

Burning the candle…

Following Henry’s example

I’m not so swift at getting the hint, so my body has to slow me down sometimes. Whatever it was that hit me in the night, it forced me to stay home and sleeeeeeeppp… (which is what I am about to go do after I finish typing this post.)

The fascinating question always is… if I know that I am running on fumes, why don’t I stop sooner and get some rest?

Good question. Because I think I have to, I guess.

But I don’t. I really don’t.

The agency will spin on without me. The sun will rise and set without my supervision. My body, however, will insist that I REST if I do not listen to its little cues.

Burning the candle at both ends is not the model Christ taught. It’s not the model Paul taught. It’s not the model modern-day saints like St. Teresa of Calcutta taught:

“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta

My lamp was pretty empty this week, for a variety of reasons. But TBTG that I listened and called in sick today. Because rest is as rejuvenating as work is for this extrovert.

Streams in the desert

I’m returning to a spiritual discipline from days past, using my camera to see the world in a more mindful way. My intent is to bring images of hope and faith to the forefront in my life.

When I saw this dry, dusty hillside… I knew what scripture spoke to me.

I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now. Don’t you see it coming? I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert. I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.
Isaiah 43:19 NRSV

The Lure of the Dragon Hoard

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. p. 106
A collection of sea shells drying on a countertop.

When we went on family trips to the beach, one of our least favorite tasks (besides leaving!) was choosing only the very best shells to take home. It meant going over each one, one by one. Which edge was perfect? Which colors were the most striking? Which bivalve had a full hinge? Each of us had to weed down until we only had the perfect ones. Then we had to repeat the process until we filled our allotted containers.

I am sure by the time I was old enough to collect shells, my family had already accumulated buckets of them. Mom patiently waited while we sorted and agonized over the bits of shell and sharks’ teeth. Couldn’t we take them all??? No… Just this much. It was a lesson in appreciating the best we could find. On setting limits. On not making acquisition of stuff a goal in life.

It struck me recently, as I have weeded out books, materials, and other resources to consolidate my church office into my home office, that I was re-learning this lesson of sorting shells. I gave away books. I recycled boxes full of old print-outs, bulletins, and teaching materials. (Perhaps it is a sign of my generation, but keeping paper copies is like a security blanket. I don’t really need them. But I want them.)

a box of yarn

While sometimes I joke about my dragon hoard of craft materials, the truth is, I will probably spend the rest of my life using up the supplies that I have! (Of course, it does not help when someone offers me some yarn, or fabric, or other tempting items, and I respond, “Yes! Sure!” I’m still learning this lesson, apparently!)

What is enough? What is too much? What can I give away, give back, pay forward… the questions have been on my mind for several weeks. I realized where I am stuck. Because when I feel the “keep it!!” feeling come over me, much like that young girl sorting shells so many years ago, it is that anxiety that I don’t have enough. I might “need” more!

Perhaps the clue is going back to the teachings of Christ.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:27-31, NRSV

What drives this desire to keep everything??? Anxiousness. Fear. Insecurity. What makes me want to keep everything the same, to be so resistant to change?? What makes me want to be controlling and not roll with life’s latest crises? Distrust. Uncertainty. Worry. And… if I’m honest… Greed. Lust. Pride.

In a time of great unrest, perhaps being willing to let go of one small thing makes it easier to cope with the bigger challenges we humans face. Perhaps not striving to hold on to power or wealth or STUFF would result in less conflict, less angst, less unrest… less war… less abuse… less violence… Isn’t that what Christ is asking us?

So as you chew on that, I offer this beautiful piece of music. It helps me focus and remember it’s what we do for Eternity that really matters.

Blessed be. sdg

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Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis!

The Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins