Friday, July 25, 2014

Amazing

In May I stood in awe as Emma spent her first day of summer break at Mountain TOP putting together binders for the incoming staff.  As the phone rang that afternoon asking if she stay a bit longer to complete a few more task I was thankful for the ways that the full-time staff members were loving on Emma.

 Little did I know just a few short months ago what a difference that afternoon would make and where it would truly lead in her life.

As she has made her way over to Mountain TOP on Tuesdays and Thursdays something about her has changed.  She walks a bit taller than she did at the beginning of the summer (yes, she's hit a growth spirt but this is deeper than just her physical height), she's been laughing more than ever (and she laughs a lot to begin with).  There has been a sense of ownership and pride in what she is doing.

She's walking taller because these young adults have become her older brothers and sisters.  They have trusted her....they have picked on her....they have called her a 'fool' out of great admiration for all that she adds to life.....they entrusted her with task...and they have deeply loved on her.

She was gone for a week to attend her beloved Camp Hopetown and the staffs genuinely missed her presence.    






After being away from Mountain TOP for a week,  Emma needed to return.  I didn't understand it at the time but today I totally get it.  It simply wasn't a matter of wanting to go and be with the staff, he truly needed to touch base with her peeps.  You see not only have they loved her beyond belief while she was at Camp Hopetown something began to sit in.

The focus for the week at Camp Hopetwon was based on Ephesians 4, they spent time focusing on their voyage with Jesus.  On the last day as we gather with the kids and worship with them, each child is given a gift of having the team members speak to and about their uniqueness.  Alexi told E how much she had experienced her tenderheartedness, how much she had poured a deep love onto others.  She told Emma that she was truly amazing in the way she shined the light of Christ.

As she returned to Mountain TOP on that Monday night, the staff did something amazing.....they joined around Emma and enveloped her in a group hug.  That night as we drove away from camp, tears began flowing from Emma.  She said "Mom, do you know what it feels like for everyone to stop what they are doing and give you a big group hug? Do you,know how that feels!"  Her tears were tears of joy.

The next day,while out and about I ran into two staff members and they said "last night as we gathered as a staff, Emma was our joy for the day. Her coming by to see us lifted all of our spirits."

Yesterday we spent the day with the Tennessee Conference Council Youth Leaders....during our afternoon we painted flower pots.  I asked the kids to choose one word that describes what God is cultivating within their lives.

I noticed that Emma painted the word Amazing on her flower pot.

Upon asking her about the word, Emma said "Mom, I've been listening this summer, maybe the things that Camp Hopetown and Mountain TOP is what I need to work on this year"


I am so grateful that God is cultivating a spirit of amazing deep within Emma.

I am so thankful that she has had young adults who have told her that God created her with an amazing spirit.

I am beyond thankful that between the goodness found within volunteering that it turned into a summer of receiving.

I am thankful that God is planting a seed of awesomeness and uniqueness within Emma so that as the waves of life come crashing upon her that she will know without a doubt that she is wonderfully and beautifully made.

I am thankful for young persons who said yes to following where God was leading them for the summer.  If any of them walk away from their summer wondering if they made a difference, the answer is YES!!  Yes made a difference in my E.

What is God cultivating within you?  What is God planting within your spirit?  Where do you need to share the gift of love in this world?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Magic

                                                                                         

It was 1985 and I was a shy 7th grader.  I was excited to finally be able to attend Mountain TOP with the rest of our youth group.  We arrived at Camp Ozone where the staff members had their soft blue (I think) staff polo's on. I don't remember much about the things said in worship. I don't remember any of the people with whom my YRG worked alongside.  I don't remember the names of those within my YRG. I do remember our youth group performing a skit.  I remember the platform tents that dotted the woods.  I remember that there was a kid in the kitchen who was washing dishes.  I remember having a conversation with the person about how they got involved in the kitchen.  I remember distinctly saying I want to be in the kitchen next summer.

I'm not sure how it happened but the next summer my parents drove to me Camp Woodlee to serve as the 'jr-staffer' for the week. My parents took a leap of faith and left me with a group of young adults with whom they had no connection (actually I think if it had not been for the fact that one of the staff members was from my home church they would reconsidered their decision to allow me volunteer with a bunch of strangers).  Something magical happened in my life that week.

A group of young adults welcomed me in.

A group of young adults gave witness to the love of Jesus.

A group of young adults asked me to fulfill task that were much deeper than merely washing dishes and packing lunch coolers.  

A group of young adults became super hero's in my faith.  

A group of young adults believed in me.

What was to merely be a week of washing dishes turned into 4-5 summers of giving my time.  It became an understanding who God was designing me to be.  It became the stepping stone of confidence and assurance.  It served as a foundation to believe in others and trust the gifts of all.  It was magical and it changed my life.  

This week I saw a glimpse of life coming full circle.  My 12 year asked to go to Mountain TOP's main office on Monday to merely put together binders for each and every summer staff person that would arriving today.  A full time staff member sent me a text with a picture of her helping, then before I knew it I had an afternoon phone call asking to extend her time to accomplish a few more task.  

As my friend sent me another text that held another glimpse of how Emma was helping my heart sang.  

Emma wasn't merely volunteering.  Something very magical was happening.

Emma was being filled with a sense of welcome from a group of young adults who loved her.  

A group of young adults were loving on my child, asking her to fulfill task that ran deeper than just binders; she was entrusted with task that would tell the arriving summer staff that they were loved.

A group of young adults were speaking a language of belief in all that Emma is and all that she is becoming.

A group of young adults were showing Emma the grace and light of Jesus.

A group of young adults were making an impact on her life deeper than they might ever know.

I give thanks for persons like Dan Morris (a staff member from my very first summer camp experience who wasn't afraid to speak words of encouragement across pages of yellow legal pad paper).  Danny Peck, Tracy Adkins, Jennifer, Mary Jo Cooper, Jay Myers, Marshall Graves, Joy Strange (the members the very first staff I served as a jr. staffer under), Dow Smith and the many others who welcomed me in, entrusted me with tasks, believed in me, and allowed me to grow in my own skin and understanding of faith as a teenager.  

I give thanks for the Olivia, Kim, Julie and Kylene who welcome Emma into their lives, who speak words of encouragement, who love with open arms and who allow an awkward tween find herself.  

What magic is God unfolding in your life today?  






Monday, April 28, 2014

Rocks

Rocks are interesting.  

We spend time and energy moving them out of our yard, to create a smooth path for mowing.  We see the smallest rocks hitting our windshields and within a blink of our eye our glass is shattering in every direction.   Rocks become the metaphor for the areas in our lives that cause us to trip and fall.  For most of us the thought of rocks is something that causes sorrow and pain to rise within us.

This morning as I was out hiking a trail I have hiked several times before I began to notice all the rocks that were along the path.  There were the rocks that were just small enough, sticking up just enough to cause you to trip if you weren't paying attention.  I began thinking about all the moments in my life that even when I am paying attention I seem to loose my balance.  I lose my balance in just being present. I become so preoccupied with the business of leading that I forget that relationships always trump paperwork.  I become so tired that it's all I can do to sit at the dinner table and have conversation with the family remembering to ask them about their day, not making it all about me!  I forget why it's important for me to exercise and find excuses to do something else.  I don't pay attention to food labels and I find my body suffering because I am eating gluten which starts a whole viscous cycle.  It's the small things that get us off course even when we are paying attention.  

As the terrain changed and I turned the corner I had to take a large step to conqueror the rock that was before me.  In the swaying of the trees, in the cover of the morning midst I heard "step upon my Rock, for I am your strength...I am your hope...I am your rock".  

During the rest of the hike I saw each rock as an opportunity to literally put my foot upon the rock of Jesus.  As I placed my foot upon the rocks I realized that it gave me the opportunity to use a different set of muscles.  It was strengthening a different part of my core.  It was giving me a balance that was different and stronger.  

Each rock allowed me to see that there is One that is stronger and bolder than I....
              there is One that is able to take pounding of my sorrow and my anger...
              there is One that rolls the stones away and gives me a new heart every single day....
              there is One that is my foundation and my ROCK.

In the midst of the rain beginning to fall upon me this morning. I  was thankful for each rock and each reminder that I can step upon the Rock of my salvation and he will not be moved!  

What rocks are in your path today?  




                                  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

2nd Saturday's

The 2nd Saturday of every month challenges me and has changed me.

I find myself sitting in the quiet of the afternoon sort of empty and yet full.

My mind wanders yet sits very still wanting to take it all in.

3.5 hours that seem to leave me breathless.

Every four weeks I get to spend time with persons that I don't other wise get to see.  Truth be told the sentence should read that I don't other wise take the time to see.

The 2nd Saturdays aren't just about giving out food; it's not about counting the numbers (which believe me as a UMC pastor we know how to count numbers and track participants); it's not about how fast we can get them through the process of letting them shop for their groceries.  It's just so much more than that.

I am breathless because a man who receives doesn't just do his own shopping and walk to his car, he is ready to jump in and carry other persons food down the steps.  More than just wanting to help others, my mind is wandering to and fro because this gentlemen needs (I mean needs...really needs) new shoes.  His shoes are worn and tattered, barely hanging together and yet he climbs the steps numerous times because he wants to give back.  As I look down at my shoes today I know that I have a choice (many choices) of which shoes I want to wear and here is someone without complaint walking in shoes that are on their last thread.

I am brought to an immediate halt when someone approaches me with a pew bible in her hand and ask if we have any extra bibles to give.  She tells me that  her grandchildren who are 18,17, 13, 12  and two that are10 have never had their own bible.  One of her grandchildren was here last month and couldn't get over that there were so many bibles and sat reading it while they were waiting.  She explains that she doesn't have a bible either.  I am only half listening as I think about the reality that we walked into a store when  E finished the 2nd grade ( she was was going off to Camp Hopetown for the first time) so that E could choose the Bible she wanted.  We stood looking at each cover, looking at the font in which it was printed and the interpretation that she liked reading.  I remember standing in the store thankful and proud to be sharing this moment with her.   The request today put a stop-sign right in front of me because what I take for granted.

I feel like a bomb exploded around me as persons shared their stories of despair.  It's not the kind of despair that comes from being hopeless but the kind of despair to arises when people become invisible.  As I see them and listen to them, each one becomes a Hero.  The  Hero that takes a child into their home (a child is of no relation) because they see a life that needs to be loved and valued.   I experience the  Hero that saves two grandchildren from the fires that have burned their skin (and most likely scared their hearts in ways that will never be seen).  Persons that are invisible to the rest of the world take the light that they have and redeem someone else.

My heart aches as one of our dear friends comes and I see in her eyes that something isn't right; the light is not as bright.  The reality is that she has had major surgery on her mouth and we did not know.  My heart aches for a new member of the family that is struggling with anxiety so deep that she was shaking sitting in the back pew.  I never see her climb the stairs and I wonder if she left before she was able to receive her food.

There is the celebration when those who receive are the ones that are also feeding others.  There is a reaching out and a taking ownership in what is transpiring.  My soul is both grieved and full.

I wish we didn't have the 2nd Saturday of each month and yet I cannot imagine my life without it. Standing with my 2nd Saturday family doesn't make me a better Christian.
                  It does not mean that I have a higher place in heaven.
                            It doesn't mean that I am holier than thou.
                                      It doesn't mean that I am more important than someone else.
                                               It doesn't mean that my moral code is higher or better than others.


It does mean that I get to see  the holiness of our God.
            It means that I get to be relationship with others that I otherwise would not.
                It reveals the humanity and worth of every single person in this world.
                       It allows me to glimpse the depth in which Jesus loved
                          It moves my soul to draw a closer to the one that gives life and anoints us.

Thank you 2nd Saturday family for touching me, thank you for letting me into your life, thank you for the ways in which you wrap your arms around me and shine the light into my world.   I am empty yet full.




Sunday, February 2, 2014

Passages

Almost 30 years ago I got on a church van with some of my closet friends ready to experience the special weekend.  We were headed to one of the coolest youth events around.  It was an event that was a  true right of passage for any United Methodist youth in middle Tennessee.  I had watched my oldest sister leave and return from this event numerous times and had awaited my turn.  That Friday night as I boarded the van there was a sense of wanting to fit in....

A longing to make an impression....

A desire to be known....

I wanted to be a part of this event called Warmth n Winter.

I remember the theme to this day:  What's Love Got To Do With It?  I remember sitting in the old lodge at Camp Cedar Crest.  We were all crammed into the common space upstairs; jammed between the small hallway, open kitchen, stairwell and almost floor to ceiling windows that filled the entire side of the lodge.  On the wall behind the speaker and musician (back in the day when worship consisted of a guitar player, one or two people singing songs from a stapled song sheet) was the place where we had all hung our 'love' bags. Our love bags were brown paper bags that we had each decorated with our name and something to identify ourselves from others.  Throughout the weekend we were encouraged to write notes and slip it into the bag without the person knowing (for those of you 40 or above you've surely done this some where along the way).

I can still stand in the back of that room and feel the presence.  Feel the presence of what it means to be a part of something larger than myself.  I can sense the awe that I felt when I looked around the room; almost as if I were hovering above.  The room was chilly yet warm.  The laugher was loud and conversations were numerous.  Small groups crammed into a very nock and cranny.

Something happened that weekend; the small groups...... the mile hike to the dining hall (in the snow one year).....the getting to know other youth not just from my church but around the conference....the sense of being crammed into the space....the being with others in worship...friendships that were forged in that lodge (and through other WnWs) that live on today....was all a right of passage.  It was a passage that began a journey for me and continues until this day.

Warmth n Winter is still going strong.  It like the rest of the world has experienced it's fair share of transformation.  It too has morphed from a small weekend held across three camps on the same weekend with a musician holding a guitar to a full blown event that requires a digital counter cueing the full blown band, crazy dance leader, speaker and youth leadership team as to how much time they have left on stage.  It's an event that gathered 2200 persons from across the Memphis and TN Conferences.

But tonight.....in the stillness of the evening (while the world watches football) I smile knowing that I got to experience Warmth n Winter anew because my Emma got to experience her very first Warmth n Winter.  It was a right of passage for her.....

Getting to put that lanyard around her neck
Being on her first design team
Singing the songs
Being a part of the first ever nerf war
Hanging in a really nice hotel
Hearing two great pastors (Carolyn and Vance)
Being gathered in community

And most importantly....growing a relationship with Jesus....

#wnw14selah  is now a memory and yet the beginning.....

What memory might just be opening the door to a new beginning? What right of passage is before you as you open yourself to the presence of the Holy?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

In this moment

I sit here in a local coffee shop with my headphones plugged into my computer to help drown out the noise that surrounds me.

A more mature couple is sitting a table over from me enjoying lunch and the presence of one another.

Another young lady sits by herself playing on her IPad and waiting on her meal.

The table beside me is filled with a men, a young adult, a priest and two older gentlemen.  The conversation is hard not to hear; not to be a part of to some degree. I want my music to quiet them, I want my words to flow upon the page that I am trying to capture as I write my sermon but something is happening that is pulling me into their conversation.

A wandering is rising within me.  A questioning is forming and my head can barely concentrate on the words that are meant to be for my congregation on Sunday morning.  What is this wandering; why can I not stay focused on what is before me and the reality that I have a task before me?

I cannot stay focused because these men beside me are talking about the very thing that I am trying to convey to the people entrusted into my care.  They are talking about spirituality, they are talking about the very God that I am trying to speak about, they are discussing God in such a way that God sounds like a far off professor that is merely waiting for us to regurgitate the right words and actions back so that we might pass an exam.  These men are using lofty terms to speak about God because surely that must mean that they have a greater or deeper insight and can explain the very actions of God.  The conversation beside me is making me uncomfortable.

I do not want to serve a God in which I merely have to do all the right things (offer my burnt offerings, calf,firstborn, or even a thousand rams; or where I merely have to bow my head is exaltation.Micah 6). There has to be more than just doing the right things; having the right words; and living in the right actions....there has to be more.  There has to be something deeper than just going through the motions or saying the right words.

God, I believe that you love me; you love this world deeper than rightness  but that you love us for the fire that burns within us and the incense that rises not out of duty but out of a sense of tending to and caring for others; showing a way that leads one to a life of belonging. A rising of incense that says to the world that we have found our peace, we can be unified as children of God.  I want a way of walking not to gain bragging rights or a larger purse for my earthly treasure but one that is willing to empty itself on the behalf of others. I want to walk in humbleness that says my success is not just mine but is that of the very one that created me.

Oh gracious and holy Lord, I am sorry for the rightness that I step into when I seek to call attention to myself for all the good that I am doing.  I bow my head is sorrow that I want to compare. I bend my knee for the times that  I want others to look to me for answers and directions.  I want to set down the measures of the world to address the injustices in this crazy world, to love in such a way that endures even when the journey is difficult or calls me beyond myself, to lean into your presence with adoration and humbleness that lets you know that I am real...I am in this life that you have called me to.  Thank you for coming to speak in honesty and truthfulness. Thank you for calling me to a deeper awareness of my own shortcomings and judgmental thoughts.  I too must do this life differently.

Where is God leaning in and asking you to act on the behalf of others, do love even when you want to walk away or are weary, and to lean into his glory over your own?