Monday, July 27, 2009

Coming into acceptance . . .

A new member at Harvest referred to me as Pastor Juana yesterday . . . . and I didn't cringe . . . didn't wince . . . or turn my head to see who this person was. I just accepted it as such . . . rested in the knowledge of this new emerging person and thanked God for using me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Forever a child . . .

It's amazing how God talks even when you don't want God to talk . . . even when you have made it clear you're not in the mood for a conversation . . .God talks anyway. Now whether we listen, that's a different story. And yesterday evening, I wasn't in the mood to listen -- at least not at the time God was trying to get me to talk. I could hear God asking me to pray . . . talk to him, but I didn't feel like praying. And God didn't push. He just walked with me, kind of like the tag along kid that you wish would go away.

I was just coming out of a conversation with someone who had my brain so overloaded with these thoughts of how ministry should be approached in this age of IM'ing, Twitter and all of these other electronic forms of gathering information instantaneously, that I began to think that maybe I'm not fit to do ministry in this age. I started to wonder why would God pick this 38-year-old woman who rather write her notes in class in her notebook than on her computer or listen to the lectures downloaded and who'd rather still listen to her music on CD's than on an ipod and who'd rather comb through books in the library to research her text for her sermon. How do I do ministry that captures those who respond to information so differently?

I was preparing for my prayer class last night and I knew I needed to focus. The topic was Prayers of the Heart . . . the prayers that move us to become more intimate with God . . . the prayers that moves us into the presence of God. . . the prayers that the Jesuit priest Jean-Nicholas Grou says is the prayer the heart prays and the voice that God listens and responds to. Prayers of the Heart are the heart-to-heart talks we have with God. As I sat there listening to the other members talk about their heart experiences or lack thereof, I found myself drawn in by one revelation that was lifted up. It was the reminder that: "You don't have to be grown up with God!"

The woman who shared this took this from the image of God who is a nurturing parent . . .a God who is described in Hosea as a Father who takes his children into his arms, and leads them with "cords of compassion" and with "bands of love" and bends down to feed them. A God who is described in Isaiah as a mother comforting her child. A God who invites us all to crawl into God's lap, receive his love, allow his healing and strength to overflow onto us. A God who allows us to laugh and cry freely in arms that wrap around us tight.

I like that image. I like knowing that this "big kid", who still struggles and is often frustrated with the twisting, turning, winding roads in her life, can still snuggle into the arms of her parent and be loved on, hugged and caressed until all is better. I liked that even though I wasn't talking to God, God still chose to talk to me.

And it was what I needed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Just being" in the presence . . .

I was supposed to attend a yoga class on the beach this past Saturday. I thought it might be a good way to relax and calm myself before Sunday's sermon, but a communication snafu with the woman I was going with resulted in us both missing the class. Still, I decided I would head to the beach anyway. I was already dressed -- at 7:45 a.m. -- and in the car in the direction of the beach and wide awake. I hadn't been to Anna Marie Island before near Bradenton Beach and thought that maybe I could find the class. If I did, that would be great! If not, that would be fine too. I figured I would have at least found my way to the beach. Suffice it to say, I didn't find the class. But I decided to park and walk a little bit anyway.

As I was walking along the beach, I just knew that some revelation to something would come. I was even looking for one. I just knew God would talk to me and tell me some secrets that I hadn't been told before. Because what better place to share than on a semi-isolated beach with the waves lapping at the shore. I remember even asking, "Okay God, don't you have something to say to me? Shouldn't I be thinking of something right now or shouldn't you give me something profound to share in a sermon or something? Shouldn't I come away with something great to write about about my time on the beach?"

Then, in a still small voice, I heard: "Just be."
I didn't even know what to make of that at first. How do you just be?
But as I sat on the rocks a little longer, playing with my camera, it dawned on me: God just wanted me to enjoy his presence, enjoy being a part of what he created. I had passed a sandhill crane earlier standing at the water's edge looking out into the surf. It seemed to be taking it all in. It was just "being."

So, I followed suit and did the same.

How amazing that the following day in church, right before I was to preach, the worship leader invited everyone to participate in a centering prayer that called for us to "just be".

I guess you could say that was my revelation!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sit down, take a load off

Why is that we have trouble just relaxing? Resting?
I'm always amazed how much clearer my mind is afterward. But yet, I still have trouble doing it.

I got a text message from a good friend this morning who graduated this past May from seminary who tells me she is having the most wonderful summer, even though she is completely broke. In her words: "I recommend EVERYONE do this: Nothing for the summer after graduating."

It sounds enticing. . . even appealing . . . and like a plan I should follow after these next two years left in my Masters program are up. But what quickly comes to mind is how easy will it really be for me to do that? Just do nothing and life free for a few months. Without any planned days or feelings that I should be doing something.
It'll definitely be a challenge.

My friend's pronouncement took me back to the days after I graduated from college. I was frantically running around trying to convince some news station or news organization to give me a job. All of my friends had graduated with jobs and I had not one prospect. After spending two additional weeks in Charlotte on the job hunt, I returned home just as panicky and frustrated as the day I was when I crossed the stage to get my degree. Then I remembered I had read this magazine that featured this beautiful black meteorologist who worked at the Weather Channel. I decided to call her up. I actually felt as though something was telling me to call her. Somehow, I felt she would understand and give me some insight on my next move.

Surprisingly, she called me back and gave me the most shocking advice:"Take this time and rest. You've just spend the last four years working on this degree and there is nothing wrong in taking some time to relax." she said. "I wish I had done that. The fact is, you'll have the rest of your life to work."

And she was right. We're so used to just going and going like the Energizer Bunny and feeling like our time needs to be occupied just about every minute of the day doing something meaningful that when it isn't, it registers in our brains that doing absolutely nothing is just unacceptable. It's not normal.

But yet it is normal. Psalms 116:7, "Be at rest, once more my soul, for the Lord has been good to you," is a reminder that our soul actually yearns for rest. And it's only in God that our soul can rest easy and be at peace. Whether we know it or not, God and our souls are like magnets constantly drawn to one another. When we're weary, tired and burdened our soul instinctively knows where it can be refreshed and revived. I've gotten some amazing revelations when I've taken the time to take it easy. And I suggest you do the same.

Never know what that rest may birth forth.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A hug, a touch . . . priceless!

I think by now Harvest knows I'm a hugger.
I do it every Sunday and even encourage them to do it too.
I say what I always say when leading worship: "As we prepare to meet and greet each other, I want each of you to get at least three Holy hugs, cause hugging does the body good!"
The first time I did it, I think it caught the congregation off guard, but they did it just the same, although cautiously. They had never been invited to hug their neighbor before, even though the neighbor might have been their husband, wife, daughter, son, grandchild or the church member and friend they see each week.
But they accepted the challenge and commenced to hugging.

And in doing so, I began to notice something as the weeks progressed. I began to see members expect it, maybe even look forward to it. I started to notice the heightened laughter, wider grins and more outstretched arms beckoning for an embrace or open to offer a slight squeeze or even a full on bear hug. I started seeing more people scurry across the room to greet a face they had not seen before. I noticed a more receptive spirit, an unencumbered spirit.

I started noticing this eclectic bunch from all sorts of backgrounds, including those who had been churched, unchurched, Catholic, Presbyterian, United Methodist and United Church of Christ, transform into this bubbling group of what I now call, "happy huggers" who find that a simple handshake just won't do. One church member shared that she felt it gave them permission to do what had become somewhat of a socially unacceptable practice. I think she's right.

Needless to say, I love kicking off worship this way. I think it puts everybody in a more open frame of mind ready to receive what God has for us to hear that day. Because after all, hugging does release those brain endorphins in our body -- said to be more powerful than heroin or morphine -- which generate those feel-good, happy feelings.

Now, mind you, I haven't always been a hugger. Nor was I always receptive to the embrace, particularly when it was introduced by one of my former pastors. It just wasn't something I grew up doing. But now that I've read the reports and practiced it myself, I've been converted. I guess you could say I'm on a mission to convince others they too should become a happy hugger or at least one who is a bit more open to sharing a simple touch.

I was reminded this week of how powerful a simple touch can be. I was visiting a woman in the hospital who told me she has no family here in Sarasota, save for her husband, who is suffering from dementia. She has no children to speak of or family that is remotely close to Florida. They all reside in Michigan. As we talked, she shared with me how alone and deserted she felt. "God has forgotten about me she said," as tears rolled down her cheeks. "After all I have done. I was a nurse for more than 30 years. I helped people and was a good person and now God has left me!"

She shared her feelings of hopelessness with me and doubts that she would survive her illness. She suffers from bad kidney's, which were beginning to shut down and had water around her heart. She feared she would die in the hospital without seeing her husband again and worried who would care for him in her absence. But more than anything, she said," I just wish someone would come by from time-to-time and hold my hand!"

In the midst of all her complications from a body that was badly bruised and seemed to be turning on her, she wanted most to feel the touch of another human being. She needed to be comforted and reassured. She needed to know that someone cared. That's when I was reminded of the healing power of a touch. And that's when I reached out and grabbed her hand, caressing it gently.

I read in an article that a touch is "like the Internet," in that "it allows high-speed access to another soul." That's what Jesus calls all of us to do, provide that access to soothe another's soul.
Jesus did it when he reached out and physically touched the man covered with leprosy, who had likely not been touched in years. And it was the same touch Jesus gave that restored the sight of the two blind men and healed Peter's mother-in-law.

Sometimes the healing, be it physically or even mentally, is in the touch or comes by way of a simple hug. Because it is often in the touch that someone receives compassion, has their dignity restored and comes to understand that they are of value.

Jesus constantly affirms that we are of value and if we are modeling our life after him, we should affirm that in others too!