Archive for ‘blessings’

2013/11/30

Wonder

WonderRecently I was honored to be asked to go to Grandparents & Special Friends Day at a local private school as the special friend of a young lady from our church. I was doubtless filling in for grandparents who did not live close. Plus, when I thanked the sweet girl for her invitation, she honestly said, “We don’t know many people around here.” At least I am blessed to be one of the few.

The day entailed a sweet program where each grade did a musical presentation before we were given tours of the school. The program was progressive from the youngest grades up to eighth grade. As I watched the kids, all uniform clad and many eager to share their hard work, I started noticing more details about the students. The uniforms did not hide the occasional student with unkempt hair, or an untucked shirt here and there. They couldn’t hide the weariness in some kids faces, or the students that didn’t smile as they sang.

I sat there realizing that adults are more like kids than we like to admit.

There’s a commercial out right now which features a dad and his son eating pudding. Dad starts talking about his adult life, and the kid’s imagination takes him into the scenarios he hears described. Suddenly we see the son is balding with a small suit on. He goes through the day, fighting traffic, dealing with jerks in the office, and so on. By the end of his dad’s explanation of why he needs pudding, the son simply hands his cup of pudding over saying his dad needs it more than he does.

It’s cute to see the kid in the commercial walking through his dad’s paces. We adults sometimes like to think we have it all together because we have learned stuff along the way. But in reality, we are messy, and we get hurt. We fall down, and we make mistakes every day. In those ways we are very much like kids.

We sometimes have to deal with bullies in the form of bosses or mean people. We don’t always choose good and faithful friends. We forget to take our lunch with us, and someone has to spot us until we can pay it back. Then we spill the lunch that we had to borrow money for down our shirt and we don’t have an extra one at work. We are like kids.

If only we could capture the playfulness, wonder, and the spirit of joy that kids have this time of year. 

We are at the beginning of Advent, and the new year in our church life. The story starts again–the most amazing story every lived. And we do have the chance to act like kids. We have the chance to approach the next few weeks with childlike faith and wonder as we visit the manger and think about how God changed the world forever with a little baby.

Yes, there will be mall traffic, and school programs, and decorating, and family functions, and so much more to navigate. But let’s act like kids this year as we focus on the coming of our King. Let’s anticipate His arrival by (at least inwardly) jumping up and down, just like kids at Christmas. Who’s with me?

2013/05/31

Serendipity

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

40 years ago my grandparents celebrated their 25th Anniversary here.

I’m nearing the end of my “School’s out for Summer” vacation. Traveling with my mom Ginger and daughter Emma, we spent most of the time in Mayfield, Kentucky visiting my aunt and uncle and their oldest son and his wife. We had a great week of movies and food and church happenings around the congregation my uncle pastors. I’ve made an attempt to get things in that both mom and Emma like.

In that vein since my family has always loved baseball, I planned for the last leg of the trip to take us to Jackson and Memphis Tennessee so that we could take in ballgames at Pringles Park and AutoZone Park. Lucky for us, we were running late to the game in Jackson when high winds and a thunderstorm rolled through. We caught the storm en route in Milan, Tennessee and had to wait it out. By the time we did get to Jackson, things were a bit too soggy for the game to start on time, so we had a nice dinner at a local Mexican joint and headed on in to Memphis.

After some business and fun with friends and musicians Linda and Cecil Yancy, we had planned on heading to the Redbirds game. But a mix-up with comp tickets left us high and dry, so we opted for dinner in a sweet Irish restaurant and pub called The Brass Door. A man named Seamus runs the joint, and I highly recommend the food and the vibe of the place.

It was there at The Brass Door that serendipity became apparent. Tomorrow is my grandparent’s 65th anniversary, and as my mom explained over fish and chips, 40 years ago she and my dad were taking them out with my mom’s kid brother Steve to celebrate. We sat just a few blocks from the very restaurant they went to that is unfortunately no longer in business. It was one of those rotating places high on top of a building overlooking Memphis. I snapped a photo of the building as we drove past (as pictured).

Who would have guessed that we would be sitting in the same town that my grandparents Elmo and Verna Melvin celebrated their 25th anniversary on the eve of their 65th anniversary? Wow. I wasn’t even born when that occurred.

It’s a season of anniversaries for us. This month marks the 13th anniversary of Emma being baptized and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church.  In just a few weeks it will be the 5th anniversary of my divorce, and the 4th anniversary of our move to Nashville.

As I think about these milestones, I realize they represent such an amazing spectrum of feelings and events. My grandparent’s anniversary is truly awesome in that same way with everything that those 65 years hold. 65 years!

They have faced so much together: poverty, abundance, love, anger, tragedy, joy, family, more family, a growing faith, health, sickness, loss, comfort, constancy, patience, and…well…I could go on and on. This short list represents how the good stuff is mixed in with the hard stuff. And as I look down the short path to the 40th anniversary of my birth this December, I’m starting to appreciate this tension more. I think there is a richness that can be savored in the good things when we have overcome the challenges on our way to the celebration of a milestone.

As Jesus so wonderfully shares in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When I think about my grandparents being married for so long, I see this verse (and many others) being lived out. I think they would both admit they couldn’t have made it to this milestone on their own, but only through the power of the Prince of Peace. So I pray that they can celebrate the full spectrum of all this anniversary represents between them and to those of us that are near and far thinking of them. They have overcome all that life has handed them for 65 years, together, walking with God. I am so blessed by their testimony of love and perseverance, and hope I can continue to walk through the trials and milestones of my life with such honor and faith.

2012/09/30

Good eats

Was it my charred onions on the meatloaf that turned my daughter away?

I love food. I often joke that I only exercise so that I can eat. I also love to cook. Like the kind of cooking that can take hours. I love sitting down with some good recipes, making a list for the grocery store, shopping for the ingredients, and then preparing the feast.

On a recent visit to my Nana & Papaw’s house, I got to cook Sunday dinner. Now this was a rare treat. It used to be that my Nana would chase you out of her kitchen if she didn’t want your help. Unless she was teaching you how to make something, you were an unwanted guest in that kitchen. She didn’t need anybody to help until it was time to take the sumptuous dishes to the table, and believe me, there was help standing by to do so.

Now that she’s in her 80s though, Nana has relinquished more control over her primary turf. In fact, my Pap often cooks for them now. It’s pretty great to see this man who worked on railroads and in the steel mill to don an apron. From an era where man’s work was man’s work and woman’s work was woman’s work, he’s come a long way.

So when I had the chance to let both of them take a break from the kitchen on a Sunday, I leapt at the chance. I decided to make a classic—meatloaf. This wasn’t made from any ordinary recipe though. I chose Martha Stewart’s meatloaf. I had made the recipe before with my own custom modifications, so I knew it would be moist and delicious. My meatloaf would not conjure up “bad memories” as a worn out dish from an ancient edition of a Betty Crocker cookbook.

No, the meatloaf I make is so good that it should be renamed so as not to associate it with that nasty meatloaf covered in ketchup. As if ketchup could rescue dry, cheap ground beef, bread crumbs and eggs!

We sat down to dinner and everyone “oohed” and “ahhed” as I dished the entrée out. Mouths waited in eager anticipation. The compliments flowed as my family chowed down. Then I noticed that one person was silent. My daughter. Emma did not like the meatloaf.

I was baffled. Hadn’t she eaten it before? I gently tried to get her to understand that this was premium meatloaf before her. She didn’t really care. She didn’t like it.

I felt a little defeated. Why wasn’t my meatloaf a symphony of flavor to Emma? I had put a lot of great ingredients and love into that meatloaf. But she didn’t taste any of that.

Later, after getting over the rejection, I wondered if God ever feels the same way about what we reject. He prepares such good eats, such blessings for us, but sometimes we turn our noses up and say, “Nah! I don’t want it.” It doesn’t matter the quality of ingredients, or the special custom sauce that rests on top; sometimes we refuse the good things God has for us. Sometimes it’s because we are too proud, or we feel too damaged, or we are blind to see what he has laid before us.

This takes form in the wife who has forgotten how good her husband is for her and her children. She wears him down with nagging and never encourages him. She‘s careless with her words and carries a cold heart and a chip on her shoulder.

This takes form in the son who is not yet a man but thinks the world owes him something. He doesn’t honor his parents even though they have raised him to be a good person and to love God. The son complains about everything he doesn’t have, failing to recognize how grateful he should be.

This takes form in my own heart when I don’t keep my eyes wide open at how truly rich my life is, desiring more not for the sake of expanding God’s kingdom but rather so I will be more comfortable or more successful in my own name.

The key is love. As 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” When I focus on love, and specifically loving God, I have better vision and I am ready to receive his good eats. I can see that what he is serving is premium meatloaf, not what I expect to be served, but notches above my dreams.

Lord, may I see clearly the blessings before me and the quality and care you take in your provision. Amen. 

2012/06/07

Surprise

Image

Surprise!

A few months ago, my daughter and I took a friend of ours to church.  I had specifically invited him on that day because I knew what my choir was singing.  When we came into the church, the ushers offered us bulletins, but I wouldn’t let our friend take one.  He looked at Emma and I with a confused look. I simply told him that something was going to happen during the service that he would enjoy, and I didn’t want him to read ahead. He smiled and kind of shrugged, and then we walked in to find our seats.

Before the service began, he leaned over and astutely inquired about the music for the day.  I just smiled and said, “You’ll see.”  Temporarily forsaking my place with the first sopranos, I had opted to sit in the congregation because honestly, I had to see his reaction when the music started.

We went through the traditional paces of the service, and all the while I was a little giddy inside knowing what was coming.  I tried my best to be reverent through the prayers and liturgy, but this wonderful tension was building and I kept stealing silly looks at our friend in anticipation.

Finally the moment arrived, and being the musician that he is, our friend only needed a few notes to realize that his favorite song was being sung. I had expected that he would be happy; he looked over at us and shook his head while smiling really big. Then he turned more inward and dropped his head a bit, and I could tell that he was gently crying. The surprise had touched him in a deeper place than I had imagined, and with tears in his eyes he looked at me and mouthed, “thank you” as the glorious music wafted out, swelling in all the familiar and best places and then resolving to a peaceful end.

God surprises us like this.  He puts things into our path, into our hours that make us catch our breath. He knows how beauty and purity can touch us deeply. The sunrise over an ocean, the first kiss from someone we see building a life with, the miracle of a tiny baby in our arms, a letter saying “You’ve been accepted into…,” a long-awaited recovery, and the list goes on.

I find it hard to understand why some people hate surprises, and of course I’m talking about good surprises here. It’s amazing to me that there are people who hate the surprise birthday party or the unplanned weekend trip where someone else has packed the bags.

But there are also people that can’t see or even enjoy a surprise. Numb from pain, boredom, or busyness, they don’t let a surprise touch them.  They don’t lift their head to see the sunrise or stop to feel the kiss.  They don’t connect with the weight of that baby in their arms or let the words, “You’ve been accepted…,” go very deep. They don’t believe in true recovery.

But God is a God of surprise. And if we tune into him expectantly, he will surprise us over and over, giving us unimaginable joy—the kind of joy that only someone who knows us intimately can provide. We have to be awake and aware to enjoy those moments. We may even have to look for them.

Lift your head. Feel. Connect. Let the words go deep. Believe.

P.S. This is the song that surprised our friend. Recognize it?

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2011/07/31

I want

I want.  Yo quiero.  It’s a phrase we are all used to saying. We order the delicious items that call out to us on a menu by saying, “I want.”  We take off for the mall, cash in hand to buy the things we want.  We make plans and create strategies spending our lives pursuing the things we want.

As I grew up, my sole dream and desire was to be in love.  Like many young girls, I dreamed of a prince and being treated like a princess with a fairy tale wedding and life.  As I got older, my vision changed, but I’m not sure I traded those fairy tale dreams in for the more realistic stuff of falling in love with a real person versus some superman on a white horse.  But I always wanted a family and a home, and at the center of my dream was the relationship I would have with my spouse.

This dream was very powerful in my life.  Looking back I would say that above anything else, including God, (though I wouldn’t have always recognized or acknowledged that fact) I wanted a deep, loving relationship with someone.  That dream was so strong for me that I know I made decisions along the way solely based on the very narrow vision of what I wanted.

As life has happened and as I have changed, I have come to realize how much I took care of that dream to the detriment of other parts of my life.  Most importantly, I’m very aware today of how much that dream came between God and I.  I know that I did little to make sure that dream was built on the right foundation.  Looking back, I feel I was like an Israelite who heard the words of Moses saying, “Love the Lord with all your heart; fear Him; keep his commandments; put no other gods before Him…” but the way I was living you would have thought I just heard, “Blah, blah, blah.”

Scripture is filled with the idea that loving God and putting him first is the key to prosperity and the desires of our hearts coming to fruition, but I really need the story of the Israelites to remind me of the lifetime journey I’m on to defeat the idols in my life. In Deuteronomy before Moses hands over his leadership to Joshua, he reminds the Israelites over and over of this very thing, and in chapter 30 he basically says that if the people will love God with everything in their being that he will restore their riches and gather them all back to ultimately give them the promised land.

It’s great to think about God in unconditional love kinds of terms, but we don’t like to focus much on what is required of us when there might be pain and sacrifice involved.  Here’s just one reference to it from Deuteronomy—emphases mine:

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts (ouch!) and the hearts of your descendants (not my kids too!), so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” 30:6

Life—that’s what we all want.  And I’m not just talking about the act of living of course.  When we define what makes a good life, certain images come to mind based on the desires of our unique hearts.

But what happens when our dreams are idols that we put before God? Circumcision.  Yeah, I know it’s not a pretty word to use, but it fits.  God has circumcised the dreams of my youth, the ones that kept me from his true promises.  It’s been a painful—oh so painful—but necessary part of my faith journey.

A few years ago, I stopped uttering, “I want,” and it wasn’t because I’m some super spiritual person.  It was because I couldn’t really even lift my head.  I was in a valley that overcame me for a time.  I was taken to that place beyond thirst to a place of survival, and amazingly I realized that only God could get me out of there.

I think he is still in the process of doing that, and now I’m more attentive now to his presence.  I’m desperate to live the life he wants me to live.  I know I won’t get it all right.  I know I need to constantly be reminded not to put idols before him.  I know it would be so easy to go back the way I came into the wilderness of old plans and dreams.  But that’s not what I want anymore.

I want what he wants for me.

In May I stood on Mount Nebo.  I looked across the Jordan valley into the Promised Land just like Moses did when he begged the people to remember to put God first and no other.  What a view I had from up there.

I was in Jordan on a theatre in missions trip with Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA)—a dream trip that God miraculously and unexpectedly gifted me with.  Our mission was to work with Muslim and Christian high school students in Amman.  After we left Jordan, we toured several towns in Israel performing scripts at many of the biblical sites we visited.

Our group’s collective journey was very meaningful, and to this day I can’t really believe that I was so blessed to go along.  Being in Jordan and Israel gave me a perspective on my faith that I’m not sure I would have gotten any other way.

My favorite days were in Jordan.  I loved waking up too early and sharing breakfast and conversation with Anna over a delicious bowl of cereal with dried strawberries in it.  I loved sharing food together and reflecting over the amazing things God was doing through our group with Tom.  I loved the late night silliness with Morgen and the prayers we lifted up for one another.

My roomie for the trip was Bev.  Bev has a wonderfully rich soul and lives life with rare vigor and earnestness.  She does not give up easily, though her life has thrown her a number of curve balls.  And she helped me to learn about 5-bar experiences with God—those moments when the communication with him is so full and rich like when all the bars are lit up on my iPhone and everything is clear and unencumbered by interference.

Music was a part of our mission trip as our group worshipped together in the mornings sometimes on our bus.  For Bev and I, both being Anglican and away from our respective churches brought up chats about some of the hymns unique to our tradition.  Once in a while we would just break out into song in our room.  We discovered that we both loved one of my favorite hymns.

Bev and I didn’t have a hymnal or a good internet connection to find all the lyrics while we were on the trip, so we did the best we could scribbling a line or two along the way when one of us would remember, adding up to maybe one or two full verses and the chorus by the time it was all over.  Like bad karaoke we would sing with fervor the parts we knew and then hum the rest until we got back to a familiar word or line.  When I got back to the states, I found my hymnal right away so I could fill in the blanks:

V1:

I want to walk as a child of the Light.  I want to follow Jesus.

God set the stars to give light to the world.  The Star of my life is Jesus.

REFRAIN:

In Him there is no darkness at all, the night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the Light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

V2:

I want to see the Brightness of God.  I want to look at Jesus.

Clear Son of Righteousness shine on my path and show me the way to the Father.

V3:

I’m looking for the coming of Christ.  I want to be with Jesus.

When we have run, with patience the race we shall know the joy of Jesus.

This hymn is my prayer of the year.  It speaks to all that I hope I’m living out right now. I want to follow Jesus.  I want to look at Jesus, and I want to be with Jesus.  Though I don’t consciously want to hurt, I don’t want to be so far away from the pain it took to get here that I forget that sacrifice and even circumcision are necessary parts of a life dedicated to God.

I stopped saying, “I want” when I went to that desperate place.  But he has lifted my head and helped me to walk again.  And in the stillness he has begun to let me know that it’s okay to ask again.  It’s okay to dream again.  He is whispering to me, “What is it Kim that you now want?”  And from this new place with new perspective, I humbly pray for the desires of my heart.  Psalm 37:4

Lord, may what you want for my life be always what I want.  Amen.

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light composed by Kathleen Thomerson  (lyrics) © 1970 Celebration.
2010/11/30

Blessed

Thanksgiving this year found me very grateful to have a place at a dear friend’s table. Alone for the first time in my life on the holiday, I was sweetly adopted as a guest for the big feast at the Robertson house. When it was time to eat, hostess Carter encouraged us to gather around the table to look for our place card with our name on it.

A late addition to the group, I could have been placed anywhere amongst the family and friends that were there.  But my dear friend placed me right beside her at the head of the table with her amazing husband Barny. I was humbled and very blessed to be sitting there.

Blessings and thanksgiving have appropriately been on my mind all month.  In church on Sundays, I’ve been aware that lately it’s not too hard to find inspiration from the other side of the altar sitting with the choir. But I wasn’t behind the altar the first time I was introduced to Stephen Paulus’ Pilgrims’ Hymn.  I was smack dab in the middle of Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Sitting in the center of the front row, in the midst of the first sopranos and flanked to the right by the seconds and to the left by the altos, I began to sing the words and melody like any other singer there.  I sang until tears welled up and emotion choked any good sounding notes away—a singer’s worse enemy emotion is sometimes.  The words had penetrated my heart without permission really, and I tried to gather myself through the first chorus only to be met again with eyes full and ready to burst as we sang the second verse.

I didn’t fight it so much the second time.  I let the tears roll down my face, lowered my head a bit and listened to the song in stereo, the familiar voices of my choir enveloping me with a simple but glorious message.

I love it when God surprises me like that.

It’s confirmation that God is amazingly detailed when it comes to our lives.  A believer of any amount of time has most likely been told how God knows exactly what we are feeling, thinking, yada, yada, blah, blah. We can hardly swallow the information. That is not until we are met head on with his deeply personal, eerily specific, spiritually intimate word that he somehow communicates to us in a single moment of time. He knew exactly what I would be singing that night.

As I’ve reflected on the lyrics of the song since, it has really blown into full view the miracle of my life the last year or so.  Out of full-time work for almost a year now, God is putting the dimes and nickels to work.  He’s blessing us where rationally there should be little blessing to celebrate.

Yes, there have been moments when I’ve been pretty angry and sad.  What I was doing before was a ministry to me and to many others, and it’s not easy to take the high road, navigate through the human side of the whole job loss thing, and then come to rest in the fact that God knew exactly what would happen to me and to my small family.  I’m the only breadwinner in my house—the pressure I feel is sometimes enormous—being mom, maid, shuttle driver, cook, bill-payer, handywoman, etc., etc.

Everything starts and stops right here. Or so it seems when I’m overwhelmed by it all. But God has been speaking into our lives more and more, which translated means: I’m currently paying closer attention to what he has to say.  Now, many months later it’s crazy good to look back over the year and see what he has done. One miraculous story sums it up.

On the way home from somewhere, I was talking to Emma about how wonderfully God was taking care of us.  It was the early spring, a chill was still in the air, and I was being intentional about talking to her about celebrating God’s goodness.  We stopped by the mailboxes in our complex, got the mail and then rounded the corner into our designated parking space.

A little over an hour later, I was sobbing pretty fiercely after a tense call with Chase—my credit card company—over the more than $100 monthly increase in my minimum payment (which I found from opening the mail).  My budget could not bear such an unexpected jump, and though I pleaded intensely, not rudely, with several Chase employees, I was told there was no exception.

Deeply frustrated, I hung up and threw my phone down.  Unfortunately, this was just in time for my daughter to see my defeat and my unusual physical outburst.  I apologized immediately for my behavior and through tears tried to explain what the call was all about.  As I hugged her, I shook my head.  I couldn’t understand how just a short time before I had been praising God’s name and now I was filled with fear and disbelief over a single bill that could disrupt our entire financial well-being.

Going to bed that night wasn’t any fun.  Getting up the next day wasn’t either.  How was I going to make it now?  We were already on the edge of hanging on.  A hundred dollars was groceries for a week or gas for two weeks.  Which of those was I supposed to give up?

After a day or two, when my mind cleared and my spirit settled, I felt strongly that I needed to do something more.  I did some research on-line of Chase practices and customer satisfaction and did not find a stellar record or even very many positive comments.  In fact, there were many stories like mine.

Never believing it would really do a darn thing, I wrote a detailed letter to Chase. I outlined my history with the company, my payment record, and the customer complaints that I had found.  I used their own slogan by turning it around and asking them to “chase what matters” which was respect for good customers like me who had been paying a bill despite being affected by the horrible economy.

It felt good to write the letter.  I thought it was an intelligent and well-expressed customer response. I addressed and sent it directly to the CEO of the company, just knowing that I would never hear from anyone.

But there was a secret prayer in my heart.  Did I ever say it out loud?  I’m not sure.  It was really more of a fantasy than a prayer.  Easily forgotten, I imagined if I got an answer it would be some dumb courtesy call and nothing more.

In typical fashion, weeks passed.  On the way to work one day, I got a call from an unknown number.  It was Chase.  A woman assigned to my “case” was on the other end. “Ms. Messer?” the voice said. “Yes,” I replied, bracing myself for the institutional bull that was surely about to rain down on me.

“I’ve reviewed your account and the history including the interest you have paid over the lifetime of being our customer. We have decided to credit your account with $20,000 which leaves you with a balance of…”

She went on, but I didn’t really hear anything else for a second after that.  “Could you please repeat the part about the credit?” I sputtered.

She repeated herself word-for-word.  My mind reeled. Twenty thousand dollars credit. Debt erased. Debt forgiven. After that large of a credit, I would have just one more payment to bring my balance to zero.

I don’t need to type a lot of words here to express the miracle that took place for us through this unusual gift.  My secret fantasy that was not a true prayer had been, “Wouldn’t it be cool if somehow my balance was just gone?” Yeah, he heard that.

And so, I celebrate this big and the less big miracles in my life this year.  God has truly been good to me and has blessed my family in many undeserved ways.  With a heart of thankfulness and gratitude I sing a new song with ancient meaning, and I sing it to him who has done so much to keep this soul of mine from giving up:

Even before we call on Your name

To ask You, O God.

When we seek for the words to glorify You,

You hear our prayer;

Unceasing love, O unceasing love,

Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Even with the darkness sealing us in,

We breathe Your name,

And through all the days that follow so fast,

We trust in You;

Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,

Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and for ever, and unto ages and ages.

Amen.

Michael Dennis Browne words, Stephen Paulus music © 1997