Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Meaning of the Medallion

This materially cheap, otherwise priceless, necklace was given to me by the Sisters of Mercy in Kolkata, India, after my niece Sara Potter and I, had spent a day serving with Mother Teresa's humble crew. They serve the last, the lowest, and the least--the most forgotten of God's creation. I have found myself wearing it most days since early November. We weren't permitted to take pictures, or voice opinions. Everyone who came there to serve had to attend the excruciatingly early prayer service (didn't have to pray, but did have to respectfully attend), for they wanted no serving that did not begin in prayer. After that, everyone had to do behind the scenes, non-feel good, no glory jobs for an undetermined period. Sara and I were assigned to clean a very large space/meeting room with cobbled floors and thousands of crevices in this old building that served them--a building that would have been condemned in the US. I had to mop floors with a handmade mop--rag on a stick. It was difficult and long. When I was finished, the tiny little woman in the white and blue habit didn't even inspect it. She just motioned for me to do it again.
Finally we were permitted to go do the glamor jobs, the ones you tell the world about, the ones that make you feel amazing and compassionate. We spent the day caring for disabled, abused, poor street children who would never be adopted. We fed them as they spit and drooled on us. We changed cloth diapers made from rags on 12 and 14 year old children, praying not to gag. Then we did the first step in the washing process of said diapers, because there is no money for disposables or even real cloth diapers. It was beautiful and awful, wonderful and revolting.
Then they gathered us together after our service, (applauded us---can you imagine???) and gave us our tiny medallions. And then we left, as we do-gooders most often do, and went back to our normal lives. The heroes, the difference makers, were laying down their lives 24/7. They stayed in the pain and the chaos to do the hard work of making it at least a little better for specific individuals with real faces and real pain.
My takeaway: as the Bible says, faith/compassion/opinion without works and sacrifice is dead. I wear my necklace to remind ME that the world as a whole needs my opinions less, and my sacrificial action more. I may not impact the wide world, but I can change the WHOLE world for individuals who are suffering within my sight if I will only go through the world with my lips more often closed and my eyes more often opened. Ecclesiastes 3:7 says there's a time to speak and a time to be silent. May God give me the wisdom to discern. Jesus said the time to serve is always NOW, and that true service means being willing to be last, and laying down my life. Tough stuff. I am praying to be up to it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


I remember the first time I was aware that not everyone respected our US Presidents. I was a very young elementary student, and John F. Kennedy had been elected president. Our class at school was sharply divided or whether or not he was an answer to prayer or a demon straight from hell. We were too young to even have an opinion of our own. Everyone was spouting information, mostly misinformation, based on what they had heard. When I reported a bit of what I had heard, my Dad sharply reprimanded me for repeating ugly things. He reminded me that this man was now our president, and if I had Jesus in my heart, my job was to honor, respect, and pray for him.

I wish everyone would have had a dad like mine. Now I have lived through many presidential elections and subsequent inaugurals. The process is always the same. Some people trashing the outgoing president, claiming now there is hope for the first time in years, and others despairing that we will even make it through the next years with "the Devil himself" running the country. It was true last election, and now it is true again.

Admittedly the vitriol is worse than it has ever been before. I don't know President Obama, nor President-elect Trump. For at least 99.9% of us, that is also true. We are basing our decisions on what we have read and heard from others, most who don't actually know them any better than we do, and those who do cannot help but inject their own personal biases. Why is it worse? My personal opinion is that as the human race winds its way onward, evil will "wax worse and worse."  I Timothy 3:13 says evil and seducers will get worse and worse, and many will be deceived. Be careful before you declare who is being deceived and seduced. It might be you.

But in any case, that's not our job. Simple maturity and human courtesy requires far different behavior and speech than a high percentage of people, including Christians, exhibit when political issues are involved. We excuse ourselves when high profile people act in a way that is reprehensible or disrespectful and think it proves validity. As my mother used to say, "If Elvis jumped off a cliff, would that make it smart for you do so?"

What is my position now? The same as it was for Mr. Obama. For Mr. Bush. For Mr. Clinton. All the way back. The same one as it would be if Mrs. Clinton was being sworn in tomorrow. I try to take my cues from God:
  • Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Romans 13:1

  • Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.  Romans 13:5-7

  • Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed. Titus 3:1

  • Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. I Peter 2:13-14
  •  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.I Peter 2:17

  • First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.I Timothy 2:1-2
Interesting. We think we have it bad? The leaders they were told to honor and respect in those days were persecutors and tyrants. People were DYING. Far different than today.
My responsibilities are to show respect and honor, obey the law (unless it is immoral and then work vigorously and with integrity for change), and above all to pray specifically for the President and all in authority. It is only reasonable that if I think he is ill-equipped, the wrong person for the job, my commitment  to pray should be even deeper and more sincere. If I have two children and one is in the right place, one is in the wrong place, wisdom and love direct my most passionate prayers towards the one who needs the most help. Why not across the board?

I have been through decades of elections now, and one thing I have learned through personal experience. No president will ever affect my life, my destiny, and my family the way my own choices will. I need to concentrate my angst and effort there.

Thank you, President Obama, for your service and efforts on behalf of our nation. May God be with you and your family in these next years. I am praying for you, President-elect Trump. May you be quick to hear wisdom and courageous to obey. You both are in my prayers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Dreamed of Jeannie, With the Light Brown Hair...

Yesterday while on a mini working vacation, Charlie and I slipped away from Hilton head Island and drove 50 minutes to Savannah. We wanted to see the old historic city, and  go to Paula Deen's restaurant. Friends told us it would be a shame to be so close and not get a taste. So we went, and both the town and restaurant lived up to its press. Paula has a little shop connected to the restaurant where she sells linens and cookware. I went in to look around and my eyes immediately spied very unique spatulas with wooden handles and colorful chickens. My heart jumped – my sister Jeannie would've scooped those up if she had been there. For years she had decorated her kitchen with chickens and had no intention of ever changing it. So I bought spatulas for her two daughters and for our two sisters in love. I thought they would appreciate them as I did.

When we came back to our rental home, Charlie and I had a great full evening. We worked, laughed, talked, played Scrabble (he beat me AGAIN), and around 11 I went to bed. Even though I was tired, sleep eluded me. I sat in bed and read and wrote for a couple hours and then fell asleep for a while, woke up again and read some more, fell sleep again around 4:30. And then I dreamed of Jeannie. I hadn't been thinking of her, I wasn't feeling sad or lonely, but I had such a vivid dream, I will never forget it. Jeannie came.

She was so happy and beautiful. She was in the kitchen of the house where we are staying, washing a few dishes. She held one of the chicken spatulas in her hand. She told me how she loved it, and that her greatest memorial would be the people she loved doing the ordinary things of life, loving them too, and remembering her as they did them.

I don't believe I ever said anything. I was overcome with awe and joy, but there was no awkwardness or discomfort in my silence. I wish I could get it down in perfect detail. When I awakened, I started writing immediately to try to capture everything as accurately as I could.

She told me to tell her girls to always love Christmas... that she had known that Christmas 2015 was probably her last Christmas on earth, and she had packed all the decorations away with special love for them, wanting them to treasure them, and always feel close to her.

She said she loves all of us dearly, and it will be such a little time until we are all together again – don't be sad. Then she said she couldn't wait to get back home. She meant her new home, and we both knew it. Just like that, she was gone and I was awake.

I don't know what you think about that. But it seems very real to me. I am so grateful. This vacation, I dreamed of Jeannie with the light brown hair, and it was God's great vacation gift to me.


                                                                                    At 6 am on January 12, 2011, 
the one year anniversary of the Western Hemisphere’s most devastating natural disaster in history, I was in one of the countless tent cities, Delmas 6, with Kendra Luna as she met with a few leaders of the displaced people there.  The sun was rising, but nothing could alleviate the bleakness of the place. I was fighting back tears, continuously trying to swallow down the huge lump in my throat…wondering how people get the courage just to wake up, let alone actually face life in these squalid, dangerous, humiliating circumstances--no privacy for even the most personal tasks. To my right a young woman, perhaps 20 years old, was facing a partially fallen block wall. Clothed only in panties, she was using a pitcher of water to bathe herself. I quickly averted my eyes, trying to help maintain a bit of privacy and distance in her broken, exposed world.
My heart ached. How could there be hope in this place? How did these people crawl out of such deprivation to face the world with courage? How do the pastors minister to these people? What can be said?  “My God, my God—why have you forsaken this place? Have you turned your eyes from these people? What can they do to go on?”
A moment of utter silence. A moment of bleak pain and heartache. Despair threatened to overwhelm. Then, 1500 voices wafted through the air to where I was. They were singing at the large Free Methodist Church, a few blocks away, to start the day. I don’t speak Creole, so I couldn’t understand the words. But I knew the song. It was a hymn I had learned in childhood, a song a had heard my own mother sing on many days as she cared for children, washed and hung laundry, and faced the various challenges of her day.  “Be still, my soul—the LORD is on thy side!”  My heart sang along. My soul was comforted and strengthened. I was reminded how every Christ follower in every culture, day, and time gets the courage to go on. We quiet our souls and let the Father speak to us.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side.
                    Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
                    leave to your God to order and provide;
                    in every change He faithful will remain.
                    Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend
                    through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
                    to guide the future, as He has the past.
                    Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
                    all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
                    Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
                    the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
                    when we shall be forever with the Lord,
                    when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
                    sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
                    Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
                    all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Worth of One Word

Dwell. Execute. Believe. Poise. Balance. Intentional. Faithful.  These are just a few of the "one words" that I have heard in the last few days. People choosing one word to characterize the over arching goal for life and character development though their new year.

It always amazes me what happens when, during a season of life, we thoughtfully select a word to be the scaffolding for the life we build during that time. For instance, late last summer and through the end of the year, I experienced some of the stormiest weather spiritually and emotionally I have known. Besides all the normal challenges of busy ministry life, helping care for an elderly father, and too many side jobs to mention, we were opening a multi site/adopting a church. A week before our opener, I had ankle surgery which grounded me indefinitely, and a few days after the surgery, an emotional earthquake spiked my emotional Richter scale. My beloved sister, my best friend for my entire life, died suddenly without warning. Her memorial service was the same Sunday we opened our new church. I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually disabled. I generally self soothe with activity. Post-surgery, I could do none. A much smaller pain, but pain nonetheless, occurred the week after Jeannie's service. We had to put our little furry friend Spike to sleep. He had been our pet and companion for 15 years.

I had been anticipating vacation all summer. But when it was time to go to the beach, so close to my surgery and just the weekend after Jeannie's death, I didn't want to go. I felt completely battered by the winds and waves of life. I am typically a very motivated person, and having absolutely nothing that I anticipated was strange and alien to me. It seemed I had experienced numerous losses,  and the me I knew was one of them.

My word in this time period was "tethered". To tether means to connect a movable object to a stable, unmovable object, restricting movement to protect or make productive. I wanted to be tethered to God so I could live wisely and productively. In this season of life I was enabled to see what God was doing in my world on my behalf, and my word took on a whole new dimension to me.

I was staring one day on vacation at the beach, rather mindlessly considering docked boats bob and bump up and down in the choppy water. But no one was worried – the boats weren't going anywhere. They were tethered to the dock. They wouldn't get lost. They were connected to the dock, and the dock supports ran deep and sturdy.

Jesus spoke tenderly to my heart. I saw myself in a new way. I was one of those boats. The waters were choppy. I was in the middle of the storm. But I had no cause to worry. I would not accidentally get lost. I would bob up and down in the storm, I might become nauseous and seasick with the intensity of the storm, but I would certainly not get lost. I was tethered to the original immovable Force. My connection to him was protecting me, and out of this experience would come great productivity. I didn't have the energy to hold on, but I didn't need to. Before the storm began, I was tethered to Jesus, the Storm Walker. Even the winds and the waves obey him. My one word allowed me to rest in peace and safety during the storm. Of course I still had pain. But I didn't worry anymore. I wouldn't be lost.

One word gave me focus in a way I could have not imagined in the midst of my deepest pain. What's your one word? Focus on Jesus developing you in that direction. You'll be surprised what he does.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fresh Sheets and a New Year

I love the feel of clean, cool,  crisp sheets. Slipping in between them makes me feel a little fresh and new myself. I love the feel of a fresh new year the same way. I feel hopeful, new, and clean in a way I feel no other time.

The new year is a great time for me to think new thoughts, pick up new habits and directions, and strengthen good ones. I'm going to share over the next few days some things that are helping me. Maybe they will stir something helpful in you, too. If you give some thought and prayer to your hopes, desires, and needs in these early days of 2017, you can work with God to shape your life.

MY ONE WORD: I have found that replacing resolutions with just one word that represents what I believe I most need to work with God to accomplish in me forces clarity and helps me truly focus my efforts. God works with me to transform my character and make me more like Jesus at a sustainable level. It bleeds into every area where I need change, and impacts all of my life. My ONE WORD for 2017 is INTENTIONAL. I want to live my life on purpose, by decision, not by default. What's your word?

MY VERSE FOR 2017: "Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise,but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Ephesians 5:15  What's a verse that affirms your word?

MY PROMISE FOR 2017: "Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6  What's a promise from God you need to count on all year?

MY ONE SENTENCE PRAYER: "Father, complete what you started in me."  What short prayer expresses the most consistent desire of your heart?

If you write them out and read them every single day, these words will sink into your soul and shape you. Words and thoughts have power. Use them well and wisely. Happy new year!