Today I Saw God
At the end of this year, my husband and I will be moving to Williamsburg. Between now and then we have a number of things to do and a very limited time in which to do them. Two of them are unavoidable: cleaning out the old house and planning the new one. Each of these “to do’s” comes with its own set of challenges and its own offering of unique opportunities.
Cleaning out what you've collected over the course of a 26-year stay can be both overwhelming and freeing. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing what you find under the weight of all those years. Stuff you’ve forgotten and shoved aside, something you purchased but only used once, and much that time and technology has rendered obsolete. But also tucked away in that storage are a few precious gems: old photos, letters from a friend, a lock of the baby’s hair. These are keepers. I’ll take them with me.
On the other hand, creating the house you've dreamed of can be both daunting and delightful. While I feel incredibly grateful to be able to build a house, the burden of “getting it right” feels quite heavy. There are so many people to consult, decisions to make and costs to cover. Plus, planning for a future you don’t know in a place you’ve never lived… well, there’s just a lot of guesswork involved. And a lot of hoping.
I find myself reminded of the words of scripture that greeted me when I was new at Floris and unsure about my decision to leave my old church. In my very first small group study, we read the words spoken to Abram, “Go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12.1) Not, here’s a map. Not, here are three nice plots of land, choose one. Not even, follow me. Simply, go. And as you go, I’ll show you where and what and how.
But I haven’t left yet! So, as preparations are made, I have been gifted with a short time to complete what I started here. What needs finishing? What loose ends need tying? What haven’t I done yet that I may not get to do again? Honestly, if it weren’t for the impending departure, I doubt I would ever find myself in this place. But now that I do, I am trying to honor it. What do I want to do before I go?
Isn't it interesting how scripture seems to prepare us for ANY occasion? As Bishop Palmer so conveniently reminded us via sermon last week, when Jesus knew he was on his way out, he gathered his disciples to tell them: if you don't remember anything else, remember this: stoop, kneel and wash the wounds of this world. I’ll be honest: taking one's leave does sharpen one's focus, even if divinity isn't in your bloodline. You know what they say, you can't take it with you.
So, as I take my leave from Floris UMC -- yes, I think a 3-hour commute on a Sunday is probably not in the cards -- I am saddened by the thought that I can't take it, take you, with me. I can't take the friends, the kindnesses, the notes, or the conversations. I can't take the small groups who welcomed me gladly and set me on a level place. I can't take the vitality, the diversity, the fiscal responsibility, or the trust that has inspired deeper stewardship. I can't take the message or the messengers that have shaped the word of God in me, as much as I'd like to.
Nope, I have to leave all that behind. Or do I?
This pondering is another gift of the before-I-go time. As I look underneath all the clutter I have acquired over my time here, I discover the keepers that I DO get to take with me. In fact, I must, because now they are a part of me.
- From you, friends, I have learned the impact of small kindnesses and the power to pay it forward.
- From your acceptance, I have gained the confidence to risk being myself without apology, always with an eye tuned to what others have to teach me.
- From your vitality, born of discipline, I have learned that no's open the doors to yeses I would not otherwise have seen.
- Your message has inspired me to think and write, on this blog and elsewhere, and even to publish what I've written.
Thank you for your patience as I have found my way among you, friends. And to my pew-mates who have observed my scribbling furiously during every sermon, thank you for indulging me. It is a labor born of love.
On the wall of my teen-aged bedroom there hung a poster I loved. In the foreground was a beautiful white bird taking flight over rolling surf at the edge of a vast oceanic expanse. Written in script across the sand were the words: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If not, it never really was."
Floris United Methodist Church, you have my enduring thanks and my undying love. As I go, you go with me. I'll be back.
J.K.Rowling first dreamed up Harry Potter in 1990, while on a train from Manchester to London. She finished the story in 2007 with the final book in the seven-novel epic. Now, that's a long story. Those who followed it all the way to its conclusion were held in suspense until the very last pages. We were all surprised by the ending all of us, that is, except J.K. Rowling. She clearly had planned it all from the very beginning; she always knew how it would end.
This is the wonder of a great story and the gift of the great storyteller. They plot everything precisely and then make us wait for the surprise ending. While we wait, our anticipation grows, preparing us for the BIG finish! In the end, what we couldn't possibly have imagined happening surprises us, and we're completely gob-smacked by the satisfaction we feel. If we had skipped ahead to the conclusion, it would be empty. We'd have an ending, but no resolution.
It's tempting in today's world to want to fast forward things. Our technology and consumer conveniences make it possible to skip the lines, avoid the traffic, and tape the game so we can fast forward through the commercials. Stories aren't meant to be experienced this way. They take their time, justlike our lives do. That's a good thing, right? Who wants to rush to the end?
But really, why not? If what God has promised is so much better than what we've got, why not fast-forward us to the good part? Perhaps because the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20), is still working on us.
Now to him who is ableto do immeasurably more than all we askor imagine, according to his powerthat is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. ~Ephesians 3:20
God, the great storyteller, is telling His story by His power that is at work within us. For the satisfying resolution to make sense to us, we have to read all the way through to our last page.
We're not meant to jump to the end of our lives without reading the middle parts. Something of God grows up in our lives as we learn to lead them. It will allow us, with all the Lord's holy people, to stand before the love of Christ that is so much more than anyone could ever ask or imagine and find ourselves completely filled by it. (Eph 3: 14-20) Hard to believe,right?
Definitely. Yet, if Ms. Rowling had told me in book three how Harry's story would end, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have believed it either. It took four more books to develop the breadth of things which ushered me into the only ending that made sense.
So, even though from my vantage point on this side of my life story, the path to a happy ending may look narrow and perilous, to the God who conceived, wrote and is still writing it, it's a broad expanse. It'll take a lifetime's filling of His Spirit for meto see and believe just how wide and long and high and deepis the love of Christ for me. Surprise!!
Perhaps this is what the late Steve Jobssaw on his deathbed as he uttered his last recorded words: "Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow."Can you imagine what would make aninventor, creator, and visionary like Jobs say that?Yeah, me neither. Guess we'll just have to wait.
"Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each," writes Paul Goodman in the Nine Kinds of Silence.
"There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy;the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face;the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts;the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, "This this";the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity;the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear;the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and sub-vocal speech but sullen to say it;baffled silence;the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos."
What a beautiful display, like the unfurling of cards in your hand. At first, one, and then one by one, slowly displayed and made available to be played.
Silence, not just one thing but many. Mesmerizing. As in the magical world of The Phantom Tollbooth
"Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven't the answer to a question you've been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you're alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully."Norton Juster
Ah, the moment after the door closes when you are all alone in the whole house. Silence is so much more than quiet. It is shush. It is thinking. It is fear. It is failure. It is overpowering. It is overpowered. It is an expectation. It is reciprocation. It is listening. It is distracted. Isn't silence amazing?
Goodman and Juster have inspired me to think about the many kinds of Generosity, for "not giving and giving are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each."
There is the selfish generosity which withholds because it doesn't notice need; the generosity of scarcity which hoards and stores, fearing scant days ahead; the glad generosity which gains by opening generosity's door; the generosity of the perfect gift which smiles in anticipation; the generosity of giving without expecting anything in return; the generosity of listening which, by its attention, strengthens and grows; the shrinking generosity of payment due, extracting joy; the gift declined; and yet, yet, the generosity of spirit, unbidden, uncompelled, offered wholly back to God and to those whom God loves.
Giving and not giving are both human ways of being in the world. Only one remains.It is not the gift God loves, it's the giver.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.Each one must give as he has decided in his heart,not reluctantly or under compulsion, forGod loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Corinthians 9:6-7
When my girls were small, they thought I had magical healing powers. I could kiss a scrape or bandage a cut and presto! It would be "all better." They would smile and go back to playing. Today, these girls are young women, and I no longer have that power. They spend their days working hard in places far from home, and when they hurt they're on their own. They're old enough to know that kisses do not work long distance, only in person.
I'm grateful that my girls know that Christ can be such a person, thanks to Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, mentors and pastors. Thank goodness, because the world my kids navigate is very different from the one I grew up in. It's different, even, than the one they knew as children. Today, it seems, there is more shouting and posturing, more blatant hatred and prejudice, and more evident disrespect for persons and planet on a global scale. Nearly everywhere there is rubble, covered in dust.
This is the world my children have inherited from me, and the world I receive today in news, navigation and neighborhood. So many dusty images flood my mind, of collapse and heartbreak, earthquake and explosion, fire and flood, with medics and rescue personnel searching desperately for survivors.
In Mexico City recently, the collapse of buildings brought rescue efforts to the scene of a school. Oh children, especially children the weakest, youngest and most promising among us bid us to pause hoping, waiting, listening, praying.
How in the midst of all of our commotion can we hear a tiny cry, barely a breath? But when together we pause and a hush falls, we do hear it. Then suddenly there is furious digging, hand to hand and shoulder to shoulder, cobbling through earth and stone and rubble to reach the tiny one before it's too late.
Shovelfuls of earth yield to hands which brush away dirt and debris as the small, still form is lifted to safety. Silence doesn't dare hope. But suddenly, there are shouts: "The child is alive!" Oh, such cheering and joy must reach through tear-stained cheeks to the very ears of God. Out of the dust there is life.
Hope is there when brother acknowledges brother, father welcomes son, and foe becomes friend. When we all gather with one cause, one intention, and one mission, our hopes are realized. We do this for our children, for all children.
"Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." (Isaiah 58:12)
The business of rebuilding the ancient foundations falls to us. We will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings. Dwellings where our children can raise their children, with loving care tendered to kiss scraped knees, and all children can play together.
Lord, thank you for the resilience and tenacity of children. Help us to love them well by providing sturdy support and a firm foundation on which they can build.
I was born kinesthetic.Not until some time later did I realize I had God to thank for that. Not until I came to know Jesus did I realize I had to do something about it.
Several Washington Nationals players drove this home for me during the post- game celebration of Faith Day at Nats Park. There, a group of professional baseball players who had just slugged it out for an awesome nine innings, sauntered over in street clothes to talk with us about God, Jesus and baseball.
Great combination, huh?
I like to say (and even write :)) that I'm a Kinesthetic Christian, but these guys take this to a totally new level. They're way better at being kinesthetic than I am. They've certainly made WAY more of their gift than I have made of mine.
Yet, one by one, they share honest stories of struggle in the midst of their exceedingly successful careers in baseball one via relationship, one due to injury and one in a dire crisis of confidence. When these guys thought they had finally "arrived," the bottom fell out. Forced to give up what they had always dreamed about, a door opened to something they hadn't known was missing. That's when faith took hold.
Murphy calls it filling a "Jesus-shaped hole." And he is candid about speaking not just about God but about Jesus. His savior is Jesus; he'll say it again, Jesus. Because, says Murphy, "Jesus demands a response."
Wow. I can get on board with that. God has a lot of names these days and shows up in a lot of places. But Jesus, now that guy makes demands. If you follow Jesus, he shows up and then asks, What are you gonna do about me?!
Over the weekend, the major league ball players wore youth-style jerseys with a spot on the sleeve to write the name of a person who has aided their career. Murph wore "JESUS." He's proclaiming the name all over the tv screen, because Murph is all over the tv screen. For his time in the spotlight Daniel Murphy's got a platform, and he plans on using it. During his turn in the batter's box he makes plain that he is a Christian and is doing his darnedest to be a good representative of the family tree.
God made him a good baseball player. Jesus demands a response.
All three ball players who were interviewed by Nats commentator Bob Carpenter confessed that it's never easy in the "Big Leagues." Here, as celebrated athletes at the top of their profession, they bubble in a daily cauldron of nearly unimaginable pressure Perform now. The game, the season, your career is on the line. Talk about tension!
They have discovered the secret to tension. "There's more to life than baseballWe need to be a light to all the others."
Oh, what a welcome message that is to hear.As an avid sports fan and regular contestant, I confess that I cringe every time I hear an interview with a winning athlete that goes something like this:
Interviewer: "So what is your advice to young players who want to play pro ball?"
Athlete: "You just have to believe in yourself and never give up."
NO!!! I want to holler back. Believing in yourself, even with the grittiest of discipline, will only get you so far. To get the rest of the way, you have to surrender. Surrender success, achievements, medals, trophies, and even the World Series ring. Give it all to God. Then, when you can subsist on what's left after giving up all that, Jesus meets us, ad it's the best thing ever. Better than we could have ever planned, imagined, or dreamed.
God doesn't want our trophies; God wants us.
This is the message these ballplayers are trying to live out. Wieters, Rendon and Murphy, plus Goodwin, Drew, Taylor, Lobaton and NY Met, Brendan Nimmo, are here to let us know it.
I'm looking at you guys through different eyes now. You take kinesthetic to a whole new level, and its good, very good. I hope it takes you all the way this year because really, what would God do with a World Series ring, anyway?
It was a great game. It had me on my feet a lot, and I'm making no apologies for that. It's just the way I'm wired. When I see a great play, I'm on my feet. Throw a guy out from center, peg a guy out from third, make a diving grab, homer, RBI, strike them out I'm up! Clapping. Hollering. I can't help it; I'm kinesthetic. I was born that way.
So now I am asking myself Why am I not on my feet when my pastor hits one out of the park? When God makes a great play, why am I satisfied to applaud politely from my pew? What if I were as enthusiastic about my faith as I am about my favorite team?
Thank you for speaking up, Matt, Anthony, Murph and friends.God may speak with a still, small voice, but Jesus demands a response.You are living yours out in front of us. Thank you for reminding me that I must live out mine.