Needing Peace and M&M Cookies

After 75 years of love-giving life, my grandma passed away on Sunday morning, June 3rd.  My dad’s call to alert me was expected as she had just recently entered hospice care, but still the weight of the conversation held with it a shock of realization that she would no longer be present on family visits to Florida.

As a child, our rental car from the airport couldn’t get to grandma and grandpa’s house fast enough. The moment we arrived we were embraced with hugs, pictures, typically a large pizza from Leaning Tower of Pizza, and just in time for an episode of Jeopardy where Grandpa would unashamedly beat us with his vast knowledge (except for any relevant pop culture: “What is ‘Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls’ by T.L.C.?” – he would never have got that question). As the night simmered, we knew what was last on the agenda and began to search for the much anticipated Keebler brand M&M cookies my grandmother would buy for us every visit. We knew they would be in the pantry, but grandma wasn’t going to make it that easy for us. She would hide them behind the flour or brown sugar just far enough away that it made it almost like a game for us.  When we found them it was like we had won the Super Bowl. I can remember how big grandma’s smile grew as she saw our delight in something as simple as packaged cookies, and we related that smile to grandma was center-point of all that was good and holy on earth; Queen of Dessert Satisfaction.

Grandma’s death is followed by my grandfather (her husband’s) death a year and a half ago and comes recently after the move of my grandma on my mother’s side  to Tuscaloosa, AL for specialized treatment in her increasing disability with dementia. Seeing my grandparents move into the final stages of their life, I’m beginning to be challenged more with the reality of life and limits it holds.

The writer of the Letter of James doesn’t wait to address the community of early-Christians with words of wisdom as he for tells the struggles of life ahead as Christians in Palestine.

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1:2-4

Joy found through trials? It’s confusing right off the bat, but if we can picture the pain, struggle, or hardship as a potential growing point in the journey of our faith we may see new glimpses of God’s peace. In no way am I urging us to move quickly through the grieving process, but its important to know and affectionately be reminded that joy can and does come in the morning/mourning.

Sarah Young uses the words of Jesus in her daily-devotional book, “Jesus Calling,” as a way to nurture readers through Christ’s teaching. Her devotional for June 3rd (the day of my grandma’s death) states:

  “The way to walk through demanding days is to grip My hand tightly and stay in close communication with Me. Let your thoughts and spoken words be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. Regardless of the days problems, I can keep you in perfect Peace as you stay close to Me.”

So, thanks be to God for packaged M&M cookies; the smallest of gifts for a couple of children from Texas who were given by a beloved grandmother whose joy and love abounded. May God’s peace rest with her and be with all of us, whether were seeking  it behind the brown sugar or throughout the doings of our everyday. Thanks for everything, grandma.

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Dum, Dum, Dum.

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” – 1 Peter 4:10

Chris August ROCKS this cover of Gavin Degraw’s latest single. Watching it, my mouth drops in awe of how beautifully the individual parts of Chris’ voice come together to make all the instruments, drums, and vocals of a band of five people through one person. We as a church can learn a little through this process. Abounding in gifts, the Church must recognize the potential in a unified sound rather than falling victim to being a choir where one voice (or a few certain people’s voices) pierce(s) through the unison chorus to cause tension.

As the body of Christ, let us work together toward one resounding sound that gives glory and praise to the One worth singin’ about!

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Certified & Electrified

Today was a BIG day.

After numerous phone conversations…

After replying and receiving many detailed emails…

After reading countless articles and answering meticulous questions in work-books…

After over 20 pages of writing (including articulating my call, discussing my gifts, addressing theological understandings/struggles, and documenting who and what my support system is for me)…

After an hour long mtg. with the District Committee of Ordained Ministry, who both challenge & uplifted my writing…

I was certified a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church.

((sigh))

The relief of moving from this chapter of the process feel’s like a well-done massage. All the kinks, knots and lactic acid accumulation finally was released through the mighty hands of God and those who prayed, helped discern, questioned, doubted, progressed, and accepted my role in full-time ministry.

It would be easy to stop here. Why not just coast through to the end of this thing? Why not just wait to cram Wesley theology, church polity, and rehearse the special “pastor-code” vocabulary that will swoon the committees a week before I meet with them in the Spring of 2014?

Today’s exciting approval by the district was not created to be the final hoorah. Today’s exciting approval is a calling, a challenge that expects me not to sit back and watch the time fly by until I graduate and become commissioned, but to live into this approval which was recognized through my gifts, talents, and theological understanding.

So here’s to the future, brothers & sisters. May we all be encouraged to live into our own calling as it is made known to us by the Spirit. Many thanks to all of you for your prayers, kind words on Facebook & Twitter, and your continued support through the process with Lesley and me.

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12 in 12

2012. Woof! It’s hard to believe another year is upon us.

In 2011, before a half a dozen plates of taquitos, enchilladas, and beefy-filled empandas at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet in Bossier City, I was challenged to make a list of 11 things to accomplish in 2011 with my dear friend Stephen Lynch. This year we decided to rock a list again, posting it on our blogs and letting the world take in its beauty. Also, we challenge you to create a “12 in 12” of things you want to work on/accomplish in the coming year. Here’s my list! Good luck and get to dreaming.

  1. Beach. I need my feet to hit the sand and visit a beach this year.
  2. Run 2 Half-Marathons
  3. Watch the Dallas Mavericks play LIVE
  4. Spend more time playing percussion.
  5. Go camping at a state park (thanks Steve for the inspiration – double points if I get Lesley to come with me)
  6. Visit Portland
  7. Visit Bowling Green, OH. (not as aesthetically pleasing … but I want see  Jason & Kathleen Whitfield)
  8. Volunteer at Chicago Food Bank/Night Ministry
  9. Blog daily during the Lenten season.
  10. Give more to my alma mater (Centenary College)
  11. Visit 10 coffee shops that I’ve never been visited
  12. Sing O Canada in Canada with Lesley (three-part harmony… it’s weird but we can do it.)

Boom. There you go! Bring it on 2012!

Check out Stephen’s blog by clicking here for inspiration and to read some amazing posts about life as a Nashville musician, the creative process, and moving closer to marrying his girl Cassie.

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the last time you saw a Liger…

It happened and we all went to see it.

In 2004, Napoleon Dynamite peeked its awkward head into movie theaters, blowing minds left and right with its idiotic humor, uncomfortable protagonist, and one-liners that echoed throughout the halls of our high-schools. As much as you want to deny it… you sorta-kinda-not-really-okay-maybe-I-did-kinda liked it.

In one particular scene, Deb sits next to Napoleon, intensely focusing on a sketch he’s finishing in his notebook. As Deb asks politely what he was drawing, Napoleon answers in his nasal voice, ” a Liger.” Confused, Deb asks the next appropriate question, “What’s a Liger?” Immediately Napoleon formulates a direct response: “It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and tiger mix… bred for its skills in magic.” Deb changes the subject and the scene fades into the weirdness that continues to ensue.

I love this part in the movie. It absolutely encaptures the ridiculousness of Napoleon’s character and his ability to imagine the unordianry; turning it into the driving force of his everyday life.

In my Advent reading for the day, I found myself in the seventh chapter of Isaiah as the Lord is sending Isaiah to deliver a message to King Ahaz about what to do after his recent military victory. Isaiah 7:14 reads, “Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young (virgin) woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.”

Seriously? That’s the message you’re gonna give me? The shock on Ahaz’s face had to be epic. You could probably hear throughout the streets a shout from Ahaz toward God, “What am I supposed to do with this?!”

In the Gospel according to Matthew, he take’s Isaiah’s message to Ahaz and uses it as an element in the narrative of Jesus’ conception and birth. The Greek word Matthew uses from the Hebrew translation “young woman” is “virgin,” helping shape the illustration of Mary. For Isaiah this message was obscure (at least), but God knew what was being said. The Hebrew translation of “Immanuel” means “God is with us,” and the symbolic child was a child of hope. Knowing that the Lord was with him gave Ahaz hope and assured him that within a few years his enemies would finally be vanquished.

During this season of Advent we’re more often the read the Gospel during our church services. But what happens when’s the words are placed in the hands of King Ahaz who knew not of the exsistance of Jesus (because it was still the Old Testament)? It took some understanding, and probably a bit of imagination, for Ahaz to grapple with the message God gave him to be secure in knowing that God was indeed with him in days ahead.

So May we this Advent season be on the lookout for a Liger; attuned in our ability to imagine that this wild, unordinary message God gives us of a young virgin woman who will give birth to a child, can truly be our sign of hope. Let this be our prayer as we move closer to the celebration.

(some ideas for this blog were taken from Advent: A Calendar of Devotion 2011, Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN).

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books are the new “cute.”

Gweneth Paltrow is cute. Super cute.

1,000 books stacked upon each other are not cute. Super not cute.

Buried under the piles of research, journal entries, commentaries, and biblical dictionaries I sit with a laptop, trying to piece together my understanding of the last 40 pages I read while avoiding the inevitable 50 pages I have looming over me in the next class. All this atop of balancing my 2 jobs, seeking to find some spiritual formation, oh, and lest I not forget about my wife and her needs in the midst of things.

As angry as I thought this picture would make me I’m actually surprisingly moved.

Gweneth is smiling.

Now I don’t know about the content of what’s inside the books. I don’t know is she has a deadline to read a certain amount of  the books. I don’t even know if she knows how to read, for that matter, but I do know she is smiling. In what looks like hell to me, Gweneth is smiling and finding joy in and around the things that I find, right now, as the source of giving me little rest and little time with my wife.

In my deepest frustration I see the smile of Gweneth as the reminder of God ‘s promise to Moses before he leads the Israelite nation from Egypt to the promise land. “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

What would it look like boldly say: “these books are cute!”  If we can find joy in the things that bring us down to our lowest state of emotion  we will learn and return wiser on the other side.

May we be at ease with Your words of comfort today and every day, O Lord. Cleanse us. Restore us. Make us new.

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Prayer of Confession – Good Friday

O God, Our God, how often we fail you.

With Judas, we chafe at your teaching and betray you.

With Peter, we stand at a distance and deny you.

With the high priests, we question and doubt you.

With Pilate, we give up, and wash our hands of you.

With the crowd, we favor Barabbas, and watch Love die.

This heavy day reminds us how you have borne our infirmities and been crushed by our transgressions.

We remember how in your suffering, you touch the places where we are broken,

and make us whole.

In our abandonment, you never abandon us.

Cleanse us, Lord, and make true our hearts

that we may hold fast to you

and live for you, come what may. Amen.

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