In a season of gift wish lists and commercial overload, it is a different kind of gift I am remembering.
Early in 2000, I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. I was extremely ill—in constant pain and always tired, sleeping up to 16 hours per day. I couldn’t work full time and Brad was working as an intern in Peace and Justice at Community of Christ Headquarters. As the months passed and my medical bills mounted, we were feeling the financial strain. I could not qualify for unemployment or temporary disability. The day came when we had to admit we could no longer continue renting an apartment. We would have to move out. Even though it was difficult, we stood before our congregation and asked for help. We were hoping to store our belongings in someone’s garage and maybe find someone else to let us live in their basement for a while.
But, giftedness abounds within our faith community. Care and concern, generosity, willingness to help—these are gifts that endure. The word quickly disseminated from one person to the next, and soon some family friends heard about our need. It turns out they had an extra house laying around they were willing to lend us. What were the odds of that?
Before we knew what was happening, we had been moved by church friends from a dumpy little duplex into an adorable 2 bedroom house which was offered to us rent free in exchange for upkeep and yard work. It was a dream come true. We asked humbly for crumbs from the table, and were offered a copious banquet instead.
We helped our friends as well. Sad circumstances lead to extra house. Having someone trustworthy to take care of it gave them time to grieve the loss of a loved one and decide what they wanted to do with the house.
As my health cycled through periods of improvement and relapse, it was such a gift to have the safe space of that home in which to heal. We lived there about two years until the church relocated us out of state. As the years passed, I recovered my health thanks to much prayer and great medical care.
Ten years later, I remembered that gift when I found myself on the other side of similar circumstances. During the economic downturn a friend was laid off and like too many folks was having trouble finding work. Brad & I were new homeowners and we decided to offer free housing to our friend. She lived with us for two years until her financial situation improved. It warmed our hearts to give the same gift that had helped us so many years before.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new faith home when I found Community of Christ. My faith in God and church was crumbling, but I was trying to find something to hold on to. I walked into Red Cliffe on a warm June morning and encountered God in a new, life-giving way. Over the next several months I continued to discern where God was calling me. Community of Christ has so many special points of history, theology and culture and I fell in love with all of it rather quickly. I was fascinated to hear of the church’s journey over the last several decades that took the us to unfamiliar and uncharted places. I fell in love with the members of my congregation who had been living in area that can be challenging for those who don’t fit the religious mold. These people had persisted for years answering God’s call to live out their discipleship in our little corner of Christianity. I learned how the church came together in faithful disagreement, still holding each other when times were hard and hearts were breaking. I learned what grace looked like and realized that no matter how much I tried to talk my new community or God out of it, there was a place for me here.
My family joined Community of Christ just over 6 months from when I first came to reunion. It was a radical transformation that still has lingering effects today. When I joined, I knew Community of Christ was a safe place to explore my personal theology and a place where I was loved and welcomed in just as I am. I also realized this was a church I could feel comfortable raising my kids in. I was excited to teach my children the Enduring Principles and Mission Initiatives and to help them come to know what exactly Christ’s mission is. It’s an excitement that still radiates in my home.
Community of Christ, we have such a rich feast to share. Our table is open and our circle is drawn wide and we have much to offer the world. I have been transformed by our little church and there are many, many others who are searching for the love we have to share and for God we worship. Sometimes I fear that we look at our small congregations or our websites or whatever other insecurity we’re feeling and we forget what we do have. We have a group of sisters and brothers in Christ who are striving for Zion here and now. Just think about that for a minute!
Some of the women in our Mission Center experienced the reality of Zion recently at a women’s retreat. I almost didn’t let myself participate in this moment because of my own fear and insecurities. However, thanks to the blessings of community I was once again love and welcomed in, just as I am. We came together at the end of a meaningful discussion and participated in the sacrament of administration. The Spirit overflowed as women were administered to by women for the first time in their lives. I saw their expressions, held their hands and I saw what Zion looks like. I suspect those who were there still carry a tender spot in their heart for that evening. It is these sacred experiences, experiences that I cannot put into words, that makes this journey worth it. When we take a risk and step outside of ourselves, even a little, God can work in and through us in ways we cannot imagine. It is difficult, messy and sometimes we feel like we have nothing to offer the world, but if we invite our neighbor to the table, our neighbor will come.
Community of Christ, we have such a rich feast to share. We’ve done this over and over again and opening our table to new possibilities has blessed the church time after time. As we read in our newest section of the Doctrine and Covenants Section 165, “Beloved Community of Christ, do not just speak and sing of Zion. Live, love and share as Zion: those who strive to be visibly one in Christ, among whom there are no poor or oppressed.”
I’ll be forever grateful I decided to risk something new on that warm June morning and I’ll be Living, Loving, and Sharing Zion for the rest of my life.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
My husband of nearly 30 years passed away from cancer in 2010. Since then I have had to make many decisions. One of those decision was what to do with his precious 24 foot cabin cruiser. He just loved that boat and took very good care of it. I was very hesitant to sell it because of the sentimental value I had put on it. However, I knew I could not just let it sit there and slowly deteriorate. So in 2012 I decided I was going to sell it. I licensed the boat and I started to clean it. I talked to some coworkers and did some research on what it was worth, searching to see if anyone was interested in it. I had a couple of people come and look at it. A couple of weeks passed and the anxiety I felt over selling the book took over my emotions and I could not sell. I believed God wanted me to let go, but I just could not do it. I was very upset over the anxiety I was experiencing. I was very upset with myself that I could not go forward with what God was putting in my heart.
In 2014, once again, I felt God put on my heart that it was time to sell the boat. I felt God gently pushing me to let go of the boat. I knew it wasn’t about selling the boat, but it was about healing my heart, letting go and moving forward. I realized I could not move out of the mourning phase. I also realized God was thinking of my emotional health.
So, of course, I made a deal with God. I told Him that if He wanted me to sell it, He was going to have to help me make it happen. All the anxiety I felt in 2012 came back. I really didn’t think I could sell it. I made a to-do list in order to prepare the boat. The boat was stored in our 40’x36’ barn so I had to work out a plan to pull it out. I needed to find someone to pull it to a boat shop, so I could have it thoroughly gone through. I was going to have to post an ad. Then there would be the test drives, which meant I would have to have help pulling the boat to the river. Who knows how many times I would have to do this? Further, in my heart, I had 3 issues I was concerned with. I never shared these 3 concerns with anyone, they were just heavy on my heart. The first one was my concern whether someone would want me to finance it, or pay with a check, because I preferred to receive cash and not worry about receiving a bad check. My second concern was that the name of the boat would very likely be changed. You see, the boat was named after me, so it was special. My third concern was that some individual would buy it and not take good care of it. I was hoping it would end up with a nice family with children and they would truly enjoy it like we had.
Through everyone one of these steps, I would ask God to help me because inside I wanted to back out. Let’s just say that I was digging my heels every step of the way. One day I made the comment to God, that “if I could only find a boat mechanic that would come to my house”. I was not having any luck finding someone who could pull the boat out of the barn and haul it to a boat shop. The boat shops I had spoken to were not willing to come and pick it up.
A few days later, out of know where, I received a call from a young man. He introduced himself and told me that he had acquired my cell number from my son. This young man had stopped at Office Depot to have business cards printed up for his new business. It just happened that my son was working at Office Depot in the print shop and he assisted this young man (who also had attended high school with my older son). It also happened that this young man had been recently laid-off from work and he was starting a mobile boat mechanic business. My son shared with him that I was looking for someone to help me with preparing my boat to sell. We settled on a time for him to come over to my house. He truly was a God sent! He pulled the boat out of the barn. He went thoroughly through the boat and completed all the needed maintenance. He then offered to meet with any of the potential buyers and if necessary, take them out for a test drive. I offered to give him a commission, but he did not want one. Of course, he was going to get a commission even though he did not want one. I felt blessed by his presence and he felt blessed by my presence because he was trying to get his new business off the ground.
I was preparing to go on a month long vacation at the beginning of June, so I had decided that if I did not sell the boat by then, I was taking it off the market. I placed an ad at my place of employment. After 1 week, I decided to put it on Craigslist. I was very reluctant to do this just because I was not familiar with it and felt uncomfortable dealing with a broad audience of strangers.
So Easter Sunday was right around the corner and I had many activities I was involved in at church and had not checked my e-mail for days. Saturday night (day before Easter) when I arrived home and was getting ready for bed I decided to quickly check my e-mails. There I found several e-mails from the same individual very interested in the boat. He had been e-mailing me since early Thursday. Though, since Easter and all the activities leading to Easter were very special to me, I had already decided that I was not going to deal with the boat during this time frame. I just felt it was not appropriate. However, God had another plan. It was 9:45 pm when I e-mailed this individual that if he wanted to get a hold of me he was going to have to call my cell phone, however I did not want to deal with the boat until after Easter. It must have been 3 minutes within the time I sent the e-mail he was calling me. I could not believe that he was on-line at the exact time I e-mailed him. He was very persuasive and I agreed that I would meet him at 6:00 Sunday afternoon. At least my Easter Sunday activities would be coming to an end by then.
When I arrived at my house at 6:00 pm, he was already waiting for me. He was so excited going through the boat. However, he was asking me questions that I could not answer. I called the young boat mechanic who had helped me prepare the boat. After apologizing to him for bothering him on Easter, I asked him if he would talk to the man over the phone. He instead said he just happened to be near my home visiting family and he was just going to come over to my house. The mechanic hooked the hose up to the boat and ran the motor. There was no need to take the boat to the river for a test drive. The man made me an offer, which I accepted. He offered all cash. At this point his wife got off their vehicle to look over the boat. While the buyer was walking around the boat, he made a comment to his wife that the boat was already named after her. It just happened that she and I shared the same name. His wife shared with me that they were wanting a larger boat so they could take their adult children and grandchildren out boating and spend the night on it.
I was in complete awe on how God’s hand was in selling this boat. I was so touched that God addressed all three concerns I held in my heart. This entire process started mid-March and on 2014 Easter Sunday the boat sold. Nothing is impossible with God. I learned that God gives us the ability to do things that we believe are impossible. I learned that when God is for me, nothing can come against me. I learned that God cares about every aspect of my life. I can’t even express in words the growth I made in my walk with God because of His hand on my life. There were so many others little things that occurred that I did not mention that were evidence of God’s love and presence in my life.
Monday, September 19, 2016
To begin today I want to speak to you about events of 9/11 2001 that you may not know.
Most of us remember that 2606 people died at the twin towers that day, this number includes 71 law enforcement officers and 343 firemen.
The twin tower memorial foundation states that on an average day there were 40,000 people working in the twin towers, visitors could increase the number of people in the towers upwards toward 100,000.
September 11, 2001 was the first day of school for many, there was a primary election that day, there had been an NFL football game the night before, and a large electrical storm. As a result, many people were late for work that morning many offices did not open until 9:00 am and visitors had not yet begun to arrive.
As a result, when the planes hit instead of 40 to 100 thousand people in the towers there were approximately 14,000 people in the towers. This means almost 12,000 people escaped the towers that day nearly 6000 were injured but most of these survived
A coincidence maybe, but I am reminded of Romans 8 :28
We know that all things work together for good……..
Our scripture today is Luke 15:1-10
In one way or another we have all lost something that we treasured. We are left to grieve our loss,
As I researched the events of 9/11 I read several stories of those who survived, everyone who worked in the towers lost their jobs that day, all of them suffered post traumatic stress issues to various degrees. When we lose someone unexpectedly, before their natural life expectancy we mourn not only the loss of the beloved person but the loss of the dreams of future joyful times that will not be shared.
Today as we observe the 15th anniversary if the terrible loss our country suffered that day, the majority of us also experience the loss in one way or another, as do the family, friends, co-workers and an army of volunteers who raced to New York to assist. Like one Red Cross volunteer here today who’s assigned task was to compile a complete list of all the personal information on all of the fireman lost that day, for use by charity organizations wishing to help.
Just as we grieve us loses when we wander away from God he grieves for us, and I believe he searches for us and calls us to return and draw close to him.
I have shared with you I am in recovery from alcohol abuse and 36 years ago this month God spoke to me and I surrendered my alcohol problem to him I have no trouble believing that the angels celebrated with Joy that day as I walked out of the gates of Hell and into the life God meant for me to live.
Rob Bell in his book “Love wins” states that he does not believe there really is a Hell, that we create it here on earth when we wander away from God. I know from my experience when I did not believe God Loved me I lost the Hope that radiates from his love and that truly is Hell. God wants us to be happy and joyful as we serve him and so the heavens rejoice when we are found and return to his flock.
I am going to share another little story of how I found my way back to God’s fold, when I did not really know I was lost.
The second step of the 12 steps of recovery is “Came to Believe that a power greater then ourselves could restore us to sanity” This step is my favorite and the word believe is the symbol that reminds me I must rely on God for my recovery.
SO I see this soap dispenser one day with the word Believe on it and home it comes.
Awhile later I am in Walmart and I see there is a bathroom set that goes with the soap dispenser so I decide to buy it for my birthday. I load the toothbrush holder with the word Praise and the soap dish with the word Serve and reach for the cup with the word Trust.
I stand there with the cup almost shocked…. I cannot take it home. My life story has pretty much removed trust from my vocabulary. So I put the cup back on the shelf and continue my shopping.
But I cannot get the cup out of my mind. And I cannot seem leave the store. At last it comes to me, yes I think the Holy Spirit speaks to us in Walmart if there is something we need to know, as I returned to collect the cup with the word trust on it, I realized I had trusted God with my salvation, I had trusted him with my recovery, but I had not trusted him with my life, the good and the bad. I could almost hear the angels singing as I approached the check stand.
When I lost my grandson two years ago tomorrow I was faced with my children’s grief and there was nothing I could do to comfort them accept pray. And ask you to pray for them.
I watched them fill the empty hole in their lives with their efforts to fight texting and driving and knew it was God’s answer to our prayers.
I had lunch with my daughter-in-law Lisa Thursday as I was leaving I said “my whole congregation is praying for you and Jim every day.” She replied people ask me often how I can cope with loosing Sam so well and she tells them it is because lots of wonderful people are praying for them and she knows they are loved.
I believe we can trust that when we get lost be it due to anger, fear, hurt, sorrow and even just plain old forgetfulness of how important it is to be grateful for God’s Love. God will come searching for us and when we are ready to let him find us the heavens will rejoice that we are found.
Friday, August 5, 2016
In John 14:34 Jesus said I give you a new commandment, that you
love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Henri J.M. Nouwen writes in his book titled "In the name of Jesus":
The heart of God is a heart that forgives, that cares, that reaches out and wants to heal.
In that heart there is no suspicion, no vindictiveness, no resentment, and not a twinge of hatred.
It is a heart that wants only to give love and receive love in response.
It may sound simple or even trite but very few people know that they are loved by God without conditions or limits.
This unconditional and unlimited Love is what the Evangelist John call’s Gods first love.
In 1st John 4:19 he says "Let us love, because God loved us first."
The love that leaves us doubtful, frustrated, angry, and resentful is the second love.
That is to say the affirmation, affection, sympathy, encouragement and support we receive from our parents, teachers, spouses and friends. We all know is often limited, broken and very fragile love. Behind the many expressions of this second love. There is always the chance of rejection, with drawl, punishment, blackmail, violence and even hatred.
There are few if any friendships, marriages, or communities where the strains and stress of this second love are not keenly felt.
Jesus says, "Do you love me? Love one another as God loves you."
As we grow closer to God, and feel the joy and peace that comes from his unconditional love we cannot help but want to love others as God loves us with compassion and forgiveness.
Psalm 103:12 tells us:
As far as the East is from the West so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
We all fall short of the Glory of God. We are forgiven.
But with the gift of salvation comes the obligation to forgive others. Forgiveness is much more costly than simply saying the words, “I forgive you." Forgiveness means letting go of the right to hold a person’s wrongs against them.
Instead you absorb the debt the offender owes you.
We can give up the right to demand retribution because we are whole in Christ.
Forgiveness doesn’t diminish us, to forgive someone does not make them or their actions right. It is out of his grace that we can offer grace to those who hurt us.
As Jesus’ followers we show our gratitude for his forgiveness toward us when we model his actions.
Often forgiveness looks more like a process then and event. It is OK if forgiving someone takes a long time.
Prayer will help, asking sincerely for God to bless those you want to forgive, will keep your heart soft and free from bitterness.In time these prayers will bring you the peace you seek in forgiving their trespasses against you and those you love.
Some of us at one time or another have felt we could not forgive.
Again prayer for the willingness will bring us the courage to give our hurt and anger to God.
There is no injustice that is harder or easier to forgive.
Some would seem almost impossible but with Gods help even the impossible can be done.