Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bring it, 2014!

One thing is certain, 2013 has not been the year of Lea the Blogger!  I had such good intentions last January, but I seldom took the time to sit down and write.  Maybe 2014 will bring a little more inspiration from me.

As for now, it is New Year's Eve, and it promises to be a quiet one save for me neighbors and their fireworks (which gets Max the dog quite excited).  I don't mind a quiet New Year's Eve.  This time of year, I find myself feeling a little nostalgic, a little hopeful, and a little reflective - thinking back on the high points and low points of 2013 and wondering what 2014 has in store.  I also wonder when December 31st rolls around next year, what kind of person do I hope to be?  What growth do I want to have occurred during the past year?

I am still thinking on these things, but two areas jump to mind almost immediately.  I want to be less anxious and more trusting of God.  Who doesn't?  I am not unique in this hope!  But, one thing that I plan to do towards this end is practice meditation a little more often...like each morning.  I think I can do it.  I think it will give me a little peace and quiet to start the day, and perhaps that will give me a little more peace and quiet to deal with the day!  I've found a lot of resources to guide this endeavor - lots of books on centering prayer, breath prayer, and all that jazz.

I've experimented with this the past two mornings - I set the alarm on my phone at 10 minutes.  I've found that it takes almost that entire time to settle down...even first thing in the morning.  Everything that I hope not to forget to do during the day comes rushing to the front of my mind, and once that all floats away, I hear the alarm.  I might be upping it to 15 minutes tomorrow.

I've also committed to a study with two of my local minister buddies.  We are taking on a beautiful commentary of Philippians - it's got scripture, poetry, art, prayers - it really is lovely, and I am very excited to be a part of this group.  Spiritual friendships sometimes feel  few and far between, and I am looking forward to getting to know these friends a little better.

The second spiritual intention I have is to add some kind of 'examen' to the end of the day.  Every day.  Seriously.  I do this only sometimes now, but for me, it must be a daily thing.  Sometimes, I think I stray away from it simply because I don't want to facilitate a faith that concentrates on everything we do wrong.  But, at the same time, I want to keep growing and keep improving, and I can't do that without an honest look at my thoughts, words, actions, motivations, conversations....faith takes practice, and if faith practice is like piano practice, you need to be aware when you miss a note, so that you can figure out how to get it right the next go round.

So, that's what I'm thinking so far for 2014...and one other little tidbit, but that's a surprise for Sunday - no publishing early!

Other things for 2014 - finish dissertation and GRADUATE!!!!!, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, learn Debussy's Clair de lune, learn the theme to Charlie Brown Christmas, successfully bake a layer cake, snorkel and maybe work towards diver certification, acquire taste for hot tea, work crossword puzzles...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

These shoes were made for walking...

I just bought a brand new pair of walking shoes.  I admit that I am a little bummed that I cannot try them out today.  I am recovering from some kind of cold bug and thought it wise to not exert myself util I know I can get through tomorrow's sermon without incident!

It has been almost a year since I purchased walking shoes - my last ones almost had a hole in them.  But, they are officially retired as of today.  They were good shoes and they carried me through my first Avon Walk with nary a blister.

But, as I look at my new shoes, I feel hopeful.

Where will these shoes carry me?
When I retire them, what things will have happened in my life?
How many miles will they clock?
How many secrets will these shoes hear?
How many world problems will my walking buddy and I solve while I wear these shoes?
How many times will I walk my dog in these shoes?
How many times will I reach down and scratch his ears?
How many picture perfect days will these shoes see?
How many issues will I sort out while walking in these shoes?
Will these shoes see me through any crisis?
How many sermon ideas will come to me while I'm in these shoes?
How much inspiration will these shoes lead me to see?
To which adventures will these shoes direct my feet?

It really wasn't just a pair of shoes that I bought today.  It was my sanity!  And, thanks be to God for good shoes, good friends, and long walks....and what a blessing it is when they all come together.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Vision

Well, the day that I never thought would come has arrived. Insert heavy sigh here. I have just purchased my first pair of reading glasses. I probably need a completely different prescription for my contact lenses, but I don't have time to fool with that before I go on vacation...so I went to the drugstore and made the purchase.

I was feeling kind of weird about it - not really sad, just weird to be old enough to need them. I guess I thought I would stay eternally 27! But, I'm going to play a "Let's pretend" with these glasses - we'll make it a game.

Let's pretend that they have magic powers that will inspire my words as I do research for my dissertations...sermons, too, for that matter.

Let's pretend that they have the power to help me more clearly see not only words, but life too...since they have magic powers.

Let's pretend that they can help me see any old problem from a new perspective.

Let's pretend that they help me focus my vision where it needs to be.

Let's pretend that they make me look intellectual, and heck, since they are magic glasses, let's pretend that they increase my IQ by serveral points.

Let's pretend that they make me see the good in everybody.

Let's pretend that they make me see signs of the Spirit - obvious signs and hidden signs.

Let's pretend that they help me see hope, find hope, and share the vision of hope with others.

I'm feeling better already.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost and preaching

Today, we celebrated Pentecost. I know that Christmas and Easter get a lot for play time, but Pentecost is one of my favorite days in the entire church year. At Christmas, our attention is on "and the Word became flesh," and we think of that flesh as a tiny baby. We have a visual. At Easter, of course, our attentionis on the Resurrection, and we think of the empty cross or the stone rolled away. Again, we have a visual.

But, Pentecost??? Well, we have the tongues of fire in Acts. We have the Spirit brooding over the waters in Genesis. We have Jesus breathing the Spirit in John. We have fruits of the Spirit in many of Paul's letters. What we do NOT have is one visual. And, that's one reason I like Pentecost. It allows our minds to wonder! It gives new life to spiritual creativity. The Spirit comes in any number of ways to any number of people.

I suppose that makes me feel hopeful and challenged...both at the same time. It makes me want to pay attention to where the Spirit shows up in my own life, and it makes me want to hear the stories about where the Spirits shows up in your life.

I experimented with recording my sermon today. If you'd like to listen, here it is in MP3 format.

Pentecost Sermon 2013

And, since I'm posting audio, here is a sermon from May 5 - same format.

May 5, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trip to Greenville

Today, I got up early and drove to Greenville, NC to attend a pastoral care workshop on "When the Unthinkable Happens."  I can't remember the last time I drove to Greenville, although many years ago, I made that trip every week to attend classes at East Carolina for my Master of Social Work.  I carpooled with another student, and since we only had to be on campus 2 days a week (we were in local internships on the other days), she and I shared a hotel room...well, except for the very first semester.  I rented a room from a Greenville church lady.  Now that I think about that, I cannot believe I just called a church and asked for a referral, and they sent me to her!  Anyway, a lot of memories came back as I made the trip this morning.  The workshop was held in the heart center which was near what used to be Brody Medical Center.  Our library was located in the medical library, so I spent a lot of time in that building years ago!

The workshop today was very informative.  My favorite speaker was Rabbi Shaul Praver.  He is from Newtown, Conn.  As you can imagine, he had a different perspective on gun control and mental illness.  He believes, as do I, that the United States has a big violence problems that we are not dealing with.  He did not frame his discussion with politics.  Instead, he talked about creating a culture of peace.  I liked that.  He said that while public schools cannot teach religion (because whose religion would they teach), the fruits of the major religions are the same...compassion, kindness, generosity, love...  Those things CAN be taught.  He advocated for a curriculum of compassion...teaching kids to be compassionate...teaching kids to be peaceful.

I could feel myself getting excited about that idea.  That could be a fun thing to develop.  At the very least, it is an encouraging thing to think about.

He gave me much to think about, and while it was an early morning, I am really glad I went.  It's nice sometimes to be the one sitting in the audience.

Culture of Peace

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Five

So, a blog ring I follow, posts five questions every Friday for consideration and blogging - sometimes, they are serious.  Sometimes, they are fun.  Today's questions seemed particularly fun, so here goes:

Happy Friday Five....and although I don't have a theme for this Friday, I do have five questions for you to ponder upon:

1.  If you could hear what someone is thinking for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Hmm...the noble side of me would like to mention a great world leader or maybe even some of the leaders whose decisions embarrass me every day I pick up a newspaper and ask, "What are they thinking????"  But, the truth is, I'd be most curious to know what goes on in the heads of either one of my cats.  And, is it anything like this...

2.  If you were trapped in a tv show for a month, which show would you choose, and why?

Designing Women.  I loved Julia Sugarbaker and think I could learn a lot from her.

3.  If you could do any job in the world for a day, what would it be?

I think I would like to be a professional ballroom dancer for a day.  I cannot move at all, but I think it would be a lot of fun to be able to dance and jump and move and look good doing it! 

4.  What are you loving right now?

I am loving the warm weather....finally.  I am loving "Praying in Color."  I am loving the Moonlight Sonata.  I am loving that I will be taking a vacation in less than a month.  

5.  Use these words in a sentence:    bless, cheeseburger, chihauha, skipping, Georgia.

Lord, bless cheeseburgers and chihauhas that go skipping through Georgia!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Prayers, Pencils and Markers...Oh My!

I don't know about you, but sometimes when there is a major tragedy, I don't know how to pray. This week, we've read about the explosions at the Boston Marathon set intentionally. We've read about the explosion in West, Texas - not intentional but killing and hurting many people. We've read about an explosion set in a coffee shop in Iraq killing 27. When did it get to be that you cannot run a race without the fear of violence? You cannot drink a cup of coffee without wondering if the next customer ordering a Skinny Latte is contemplating what it will be like to blow you up? It is overwhelming. The state of the world can be overwhelming.

Sometimes, I just want to turn the news off. Close my eyes. Pretend that as long as things are ok at my home address, that is all that matters.

I struggle with prayer during these times. Actually, prayer is an ongoing struggle...but since Advent, I've been experimenting with different ways to pray. Started with my old stand-by of silence, psalms and writing. In the last month, I haven't felt as close to God as I've continued in my routine. Purchased a book called 50 Ways to Pray, and wow, that has been a great resource for just settling down my stirred up mind.

BUT, yesterday, I received a book called "Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God" by Sybil MacBeth. I know it sounds weird, but when you are practicing God stuff, sometimes you do weird things. Anyway, this book is about using colors and drawings (doodles really) to create prayers. I tried it this morning, and would you believe 50 minutes went by before I remembered to check the time? It worked for me today. It was powerful for me today.

Maybe because with explosions and stuff, I just don't know how to pray. Comfort? Strength? Justice? With the state of our nation, I just don't know how to pray. Sometimes, I don't know the words to say or write...but these colors, these little sketches brought new words to my mind. New phrases. New questions. It worked for me today.

So, I splurged...bought brand new fully sharpened colored pencils (24 of them), markers, and a sketch pad. It was the same excitement I had as a child when I got a Crayola Caddy for Christmas.  I had to remind myself that I was just starting, and I do not need to purchase the entire store.

I like to try different ways to connect to God. And, colored pencils are kind of fun.  Maybe one day, I will post one of my visual prayers...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Goodbye Cokesbury

Today, I made what will be my last trip to the Cokesbury store in Raleigh. They are closing all of the stores and going internet only. I received a card saying that all of their merchandise was now 50% off, so I drove over to check out their supplies and books. I did not expect to see so many empty shelves and empty walls, nor did I expect to feel sad about it...but I did.

I became a frequent visitor to Cokesbury 13 years ago when I started seminary. Our class books were ordered through their store, and they gave all of the students a small discount. When I was ordained, I went to Cokesbury with my mother and pastor to pick out a robe. You may think that all black robes are the same...but they are not. Mine is made from a soft, breathable fabric that feels like peach fuzz. Because my size was in stock that day, they gave me a discount.

When I began serving as a pastor, I went to Cokesbury for commentaries, preaching material, curriculum, personal devotional books, Advent and Lenten resources, stewardship supplies, and sometimes I went just to check out the newest authors for my own reading. Since I've been at Drew, I've been to Cokesbury for class books and research materials.

Today, Jeanne waited on me - and she has helped me before. She has ordered books for me. Engraved them for me...and just taken care of things. I realize the world is going to the internet, but what the internet won't be able to do, is call me by name - well, ok, maybe the internet can remember my name, but the internet cannot recognize me with eyes. Jeanne can. Molly can. And, the internet cannot give me that personal touch, one on one help when you need a Bible for a pre-teen or when you need some kind of curriculum that might appeal to boys or whatever. And, the internet cannot tell you if you are about to accidentally by some religious hoo-hah.

So, although their selection had started to dwindle by today, I managed to purchase $158 worth of books today - actually, I suppose that is $316 worth since they were all half off. Some of it was pastor's class material, books on the Holy Spirit for an upcoming paper, a bible study book for tweens, and several books that I hope will challenge my own spirit and my prayer life.

I am thankful to have shopped at Cokesbury for these many years, and I will miss them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Not ready!

Thus far, Holy Week has not been at all what I had anticipated. I thought I'd read a book that I've had for two years now by Marcus Borg called "The Last Week." Then, I thought I'd be journaling about that - spending some time in silent meditation. Instead of watching TV, I thought I'd still be chipping away at the Moonlight Sonata - which sounds like a wonderful Lenten piece.

Instead, our congregation has two deaths last week which resulted in two funerals on Saturday. I think I picked up a stomach bug, because on the way home from visiting a hospitalized parishioner in a neighboring town on Monday, I started to feel really, really bad. By the time I arrived home, I was sick - had to call the Mister out of a meeting to come home. I don't remember ever being quite that sick before. Anyway, since then, I've been sleeping, resting, or wishing I were sleeping or resting.

Maundy Thursday is tomorrow.

Easter Sunday is just a few days away.

I'm not ready!

Then again, who is ever really ready for Resurrection?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nine things in nine years

It was on March 7, 2004 that Pullen Memorial Baptist Church ordained me to the Gospel Ministry - that's 9 years ago. I went back and read the sermon that was preached that day and the charge that was given to me. It was a great day - we sang my favorite hymns: "Joyful, Joyful," "Be Thou My Vision," and "Let All Things Now Living." My friend and pastor preached a sermon entitled "The Outrageous Optimism of Ordination." My other friend and pastor gave me the charge - told me to "not just share those places of healing and light and wholeness with those to whom you will minister. Have the courage to offer truth and hope and life as you risk sharing with others your own darkness and brokenness and woundedness. If you dare to do so, your life and ministry will be a source of life and light for others...stay on the journey. Keep building community with those who are different from you. Hold to your particular faith story tradition and continue to position yourself along its edge. It is this kind of community building and belonging that you are called to as one ordained by the church."

I hope I have lived up to the charge...I know I'm not the same person I was nine years ago. As the Mister likes to say, "My youthful optimism has been replaced by experience." And, that's a good thing.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to post nine things I've learned in nine years of ordained ministry.

1) Everybody is not going to like you. Some will enthusiastically dislike you. This is ok.
2) Church is not the most important thing in your parishioner's lives. Deal with it.
3) Your spouse does not want to talk about church stuff 24/7...and neither does your dog. So, get a hobby.
4) Sometimes your presence means more than any words...so don't worry about the words.
5) When in doubt, keep your mouth shut for 24 hours. Most things can wait 24 hours.
6) Expect to be disappointed every day. Expect to be fulfilled every day.
7) Take your vacation time - all of it. You do not qualify as a "martyr" by working non-stop, but you do qualify as "stupid."
8) Pray. A lot.
9) Never underestimate the Holy Spirit's ability to outsmart you and astonish you.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Not rushed

I am teaching a workshop here at our retreat center on Saturday. Initially, I was bringing two other church members with me, but with the issues from last week, I came alone. I don't mind that so much. They gave me the key to the main building, so that if I want to practice the piano tonight, I have access! I have my coffee pot, my computer, and I brought 9 books for research! I think these 2 days will give my soul a chance to catch up with the rest of me. And, I am enjoying not feeling rushed - having a little time to ponder over Sunday's sermon and over Saturday's presentation. I've got a little extra time for extra prayers for Sunday's small group work, and it is just a gift to not feel rushed.

When I arrived in the little town today, I stopped for lunch. As I was leaving, it was blowing snow and the the wind was wicked. There was a woman walking who asked if I was going in her direction. I wasn't. But, as I drove to the retreat center, I felt bad about leaving her out in the cold, so I turned around and went back and picked her up. Turns out that she usually rides a bike, but she had an accident a couple of weeks ago. She was on her way to the pharmacy and grocery store, and she planned to catch a bus home. I would like to report that our car ride was a spiritual high, but it really wasn't.

It was just a ride. But, you know, sometimes, that is all we are supposed to offer - just a ride, with no other expectations. Somehow, I do believe that little acts of kindness (whether we automatically do them or have to make ourselves turn around for a do-over), make a difference in the world. I do believe that little acts of kindness stands proud next to acts of meanness. I do believe that we are called to bear fruit - and if we can't give little old ladies a ride on a cold day, what good are we?

Kindness is a practice. It is something that I have to be very intentional about. That's why I like coming to this retreat center. It feeds my Spirit. It makes me think about things like kindness and spiritual stuff. It slows me down.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Yesterday, we had a medical emergency at church. After it was all over, I left the hospital and thought about just driving home and taking some Advil for my aching head! But, instead, I went back to the church, gave the firemen next door an update, sat down in the sanctuary, and breathed. Good thing we practiced a breath prayer in my Lenten group.

Sometimes, when I am in the middle of a crisis situation, I think much like I did when I got married...I think, "If I stay calm, everybody else will stay calm. If I keep it together, everybody else will keep it together." Usually, it works that way. I've found that to be especially true at funerals. The family is often exhausted and they need a calm presence to get them through all of the rituals that surround death so that those rituals can be comforting and not even more stressful.

The flip side is that when I am out of crisis mode, I have a moment or two of not being myself. The truth is that emergencies get to me, too. Death gets to me, too. Scary things scare me, too. Sometimes, when I finally get by myself, I have tears. Sometimes, I just stare out the window. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and breathe. Sometimes, I think I do all of that at the same time.

All of that to say...never take your minister's calm for aloofness. We are often doing all that we can to hold it together ourselves...which makes me appreciate all over again the importance of keeping our spiritual lives in shape. You never what the day holds. You never, ever know. So, breathe. Receive the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Getting Off My Spiritual Duff

Last night, Joe and I went out to dinner with some friends from Raleigh. The husband is a former co-worker of mine - we shared an office, but we also shared similar tastes in music and had similar interests in religious and spiritual things. So, we've kept up through the years. The wife is a Presbyterian minister - well, she'll be a retired Presbyterian minister as of tomorrow. They drove here, and we had a nice dinner at one of our favorite local hang-outs.

The thing is...we saw them last December right after Christmas. We promised to get together more, maybe even once a month. And, guess what? Last night was the first time since then that we've all seen each other. Time goes so fast, doesn't it?

So, I started thinking. What have I done this year that has truly prohibited me from keeping up with friends? I really could not come up with much. The truth of the matter is that we did not get together because nobody took the initiative to make the call and the reservation. That led me to further reflections about spiritual things - keeping up with God, for instance - and what a lousy job I do with that sometimes. Sometimes, I just want to wrap up in my snuggie and do nothing. And, that's ok sometimes. That's what I did the week after Christmas, and it was wonderful. I needed the rest. The problem comes when snuggie land is more appealing than real life! The problem comes with trivial things rank higher on my calendar than relationships or God.

So, during this past Advent, I decided to be serious about carving out space and time for God. I took the initiative...every day, I took the initiative. Got a new book that helps me - called "Openings" by James Peacock. Started journaling again - and changed the way I pray. After just a few weeks, it's not work anymore. It is something that I want to do.

Of course, I should not be surprised.

Our friends usually take the time together when we express an interest.

And, God usually shows up (in God's time, of course) when I take the initiative.

So, this year, I'm still going to keep up with my responsibilities. But, I'm going to be careful with my time. I am committed to taking the initiative this year to spend time with God...and with old friends.