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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Harry Edenfield, a Christian author, offers a thought-provoking daily devotional for this season of Lent.

Today’s verse is from Genesis 19:16: “But Lot lingered. So the angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

Edenfield reflects, “Lord God, your servant Lot lingered in Sodom. Sometimes I love my chosen place too much. You urge me to leave my sin spot.

I linger.

I linger even if it may be injurious to my loved ones. Remember me: I, too, need an escort from the magnet of sin.

As we leave together, Holy Spirit, urge me to have no regret about the exit from sin. Urge me not to look back.”

Amen.

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Depth is critical. Without it, life is two-dimensional and only has length and height.

3D, however, is by far richer because it adds depth. And depth adds dimension, perspective and soothes the mind, heart and soul because it helps bring things to life, and life into focus.

Similarly, in photography, depth of field allows us to discern distance between what is in focus while keeping an eye on what lies beyond.

Note that neither concept embraces looking back.

Ironically, last week before this post came out, I had captured a shot down by the bay that I’d sent to my blogging buddy, Mr. 3D, for his feedback, since he has a really good eye for photography, creativity and all things beachy keen.

My mother’s favorite flower was the camellia, a flower she paid handsomely for to enjoy in her native Chicago, but which grows abundantly here where she chose to live out her last years with me. So I always think of her in the winter when the camellias bloom so beautifully like this.

Some of you may be aware that I laid my mother to rest, summer before last.

Or so I thought!

In an odd and truly unusual religious turnaround, the priest sought me privately after church last week and made a very unexpected confession. “Er, I believe we found what appears to be more of your mother’s ashes, back in the sacristy. What would you like us to do?”

You see, the priest had been hit by a drunk driver the week before mother died (fortunately he was alright after a few weeks of recovery), so the interim priest did the funeral and interred her ashes in the church memorial garden.

I know mother was buried because I and my family was there in vivo to participate in the solemn event. We wept. We joined hands. We sang hymns and prayed. The children scooped grandmother into the earth. Rites were performed.

We said goodbye. Forever.

There was apparently some miscommunication about a second box that turned up long after what the rest of us thought was the actual second box, had been dispersed to the places her ashes were scattered over water. Somehow, the funeral home had created three boxes and delivered them to the church and with the main priest out of commission, nobody knew about Box 3.

Until this week. They’ve been doing a head-to-toe cleaning of the church as they prepare for the regional Diocesan Convention to descend upon our church later this week.

Mother was a photographer and she also had a great sense of humor, so I’m sure she was LHAO from all points beyond, when we learned she had actually been haunting the church for the past 18 months.

So when the priest asked me what I wanted him to do, for a split second, mother’s funny story about what to do with her ashes (pre-death) danced across my mind.

At some point in her 80s (she died at 93), some funeral home solicitor kept calling her every week trying to get her to buy a funeral plan. They were, as pesky solicitors are, relentless.

So one day mother, anticipating their call, decided to rig up a sure-fire way to get them to stop calling. Sure enough, the phone rang that day and she answered with a wry smirk on her face and when they asked yet again she’d decided yet to buy a plan with them, she said without skipping a beat,

“Yes, I’ve finally decided what plan I want. I want to be cremated and for my ashes to be divided into four. Each one of my children will get a portion of my ashes to keep in the trunks of their cars. That way, should they ever get stuck in the snow somewhere, I can still be of help to my children.”

The hapless funeral solicitor never called back. And I decided against suggesting this to the priest, although I might save the story for him for a lighter time in the future.

So yesterday, mother was officially laid to rest with the rest of her ashes, in the church garden where we thought we’d been going to visit (all of) her all along.

The garden happened to have many different-colored camellia bushes behind the memorial section, so I picked one for mother this morning and located her plot, which was newly disturbed with broken grass and unearthed dirt.

Rest finally in peace, Elizabeth Anne – and may you take some awesome photos in Heaven!

Thank You, God, for the gifts You have given me through my mother – love never ending, a happy spirit, an abundance of laughter, a zeal for learning, an eye for Your creation, a passion for seeking You…and for 3D and depth of all fields.

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Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday !

Scenes from my beach world this week-

Unexpected gifts continually wash up on our shores…

Baby Jesus hasn’t quite arrived yet in this scene, the fourth Sunday of Advent

Silent night ahead

Children playing outside in the courtyard, as seen through the church’s “eyes to the world”

A play on the term “Christmas Tag!”

Thank You, God, for gifts that don’t come in boxes…

…and for gifts that do. Merry Christmas, y’all!

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Tonight our church observed a new tradition, holding a service of the Longest Night, marking the coming of the literal longest night of the season which immediately precedes the coming of the nativity of our Lord.

I’d never heard of it before, but during some of the moments of silence in the service, I reflected how it mirrors other challenging times that precede other celebrations, such as the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.

I suppose I’ve had some years of merriment, a seven year Mardi Gras of sorts, leading up to this Longest Night. But through the darkness and in quiet solitude, God is faithful to fill our horizons with bright crimson Sonrise.

This morning’s walk was breathtaking…

Psalm 46 was read tonight, one of my favorites: “Be still, then, and know that I am God…”

I decided to try out the service for 3 reasons: that I lost my mother last year and continue to grieve the deaths of both parents, that I work 70 hours a week helping the mentally ill, the suicidal and others who grieve, have lost, are hurting or are lonely…and that I myself have a fresh loss that has been a long time coming but just yesterday confirmed that it is a forever loss.

And yet, by God’s mercy, all 3 are gains.

Yesterday’s loss was punctuated by the sting of being told that only merry emotions and memories were welcome during this season, that my needs for afore-promised comfort, attachment and reassurance were interfering with the celebration of a dear one’s Christmas…

”So why would I want to be available to your mood swings during these precious days celebrating the birth of Christ, detracting from it?” the email sharply read, banishing me into the land of coal and switches, for even daring to darken the doorstep of one picture-perfect American Christmas. A fantasy blog to which I was apparently, blatantly and abruptly blocked. Unfriended. Unfollowed. Deleted.

My arms got tired holding up the happy mask 24/7. I flunked Christmas Perfection 101. Failed to leave the party while it was still rocking.

My Longest Night had begun, and the service could not have come at a better time.

The intercessor began with, “In the spirit of the season, let us now ask God for what we need for ourselves as we participate in the Season of Christmas as people coping with loss, pain, suffering, loneliness, grief and sadness.

“God, we come to you as Christmas dawns with pain growing inside us. As the nights have been growing longer, so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts. In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words. Loving God, hear our prayer.

“Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us, too, but someone has died or moved away or abandoned us. Or we have lost a job, or a cause.

“We find ourselves adrift and alone, lost. Lord, help us find our way.

“The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore. The memories of what was, the fears of what may be can overwhelm us. all around us we hear the sounds of celebration, but all we experience is a sense of melancholy Please be near us this season.

“Compassionate God: You loved the world so much that you sent us Jesus to bear our infirmities and afflictions Through acts of healing, he revealed you as the true source of health and salvation. For the sake of your Christ who suffered and died for us, conquered death, and now reigns with you in glory, hear the cry of your people. Have mercy on us, make us whole, and bring us at last into the fullness of your eternal life.

“Each of us comes bearing our own hurts, sorrows, and broken places. We want to invite each of you to offer your wounds to the God who loves each of us deeply and wants to carry our pain. God waits, patiently, gently calling out: ‘Give me your pain, come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, I will refresh you!'”

We were invited to either stay put and observe silence, come to the altar to receive a blessing or go to the back and light a candle.

I appreciated the options since I could have easily benefited from all 3. But I couldn’t go to the altar because I would have wept openly (what was I thinking, not packing Kleenex in my purse for this?!), and I didn’t want to passively stay put in silence.

So I made my way to the back and lit a candle and said a prayer for my parents and their parents before them, all godly people who fucked up and righted themselves at some point and somehow made their way back to God.

And, after looking around to see if it would be greedy to light a second candle, grabbed another one and quickly lit it, mourning the loss of my bff and noticing the brightness of that candle, there in the darkness, committing it to God and thanking Him for the salvation of a marriage and a family.

I quietly returned to my pew, kneeled in reverence, was washed over with peace and gratitude for God’s mercy.

Thank You, God, for Long Nights, for they signify that daybreak is near.

Thanks God, for Things that matter most. Sometimes the Long Nights are the Things that matter most.

And letting go (of things that matter most) IS letting God.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

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May the Son shine upon Your face…both rising and setting…

Hey, God…Thank You for the setting that we may behold yet another Rising. Thanks for Your promise that those things that disappear and set in the sky, will again appear, rise and shine! That even if the worst case scenario comes true, that we can still count on You to rise again and make full and complete, that which once seemed empty and hopeless.

Thank You, God, for believing first in uS, that we might always believe in You.

Thank You for riches in simplicity.

Lord…Let us all be like this sunrise above, illuminating all that we see, shimmering light on darkness, and dancing reflections of Hope in You and Your eternal light.

Happy Easter, dear Readers!

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If trees could talk! This beached and upended tree perpetuates an intricate Story despite its seeming demise, with its processed planked cousins in a heap to the right…

What story do YOU see here? An end, or a beginning?

A 180 in the sand where I stood, yielded these stories:

Thank You, God, for the old and new stories, perpetual stories, real stories, imaginary stories and the freedom to always create new stories that keep us, that keep life, alive and well and infused with Hope and Faith. That there is always beauty and love and New Life, no matter the level of mayhem, that life itself always springs from death and destruction. That salvation and rejoicing always come after the barrenness of grief, Lent and denial. That there is always light after darkness. Amen.

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Where I live, the concept of a New Horizon draws many a soul each day. 

They flock to these shores resolving to make a fresh start, a golden retirement, a new identity or a temporary escape from their reality.

Living by the sea, however, still necessitates daily grind. Laundry and dishes don’t go away, things break and need fixing and, bless our hearts, there is no escape from this fine, white sugar sand tracked into the house daily…but I am NOT complaining!

So my new horizon for 2017 will be to to see my world anew through the eyes of our visitors – to actually pause to BREATHE deeply during the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. To be more mindful of the beauty surrounding me. To engage the 5 senses and escape back into my world here, anew.

2016 has been a year of tremendous transition in my life, and I bet in yours, too! 

I invite you to join me in rediscovering yourself and your calming peace in 2017….let us look through the lens together and see nothing but awe-inspiring beauty in the year to come.

Let us get out of the grind and into the moment!

Thanks, God, for an amazing year, for getting us through 2016 and delivering us to the doorstep of 2017. Thank You for all the things You’ve shown us and taught us. 

And most of all, for all the gifts, promise and beauty surrounding our lives. May we never get caught up in the grind and always see each moment of each day as a “present” from You. 

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…for Godot, comes to mind, the play by Beckett.

So Vladimir and Estragon wait and ponder life and that for which they wait…not unlike us.

An entire play based on the journey instead of the end-result…how pertinent!

It encompasses everything from philosophy to the practical, to what to do when things change in the face of growing old together when you wait…and wait…and still never find that holy grail of realization.

Can you grow old with another without finding the satisfaction of the goals you seek? Can you stick with it without squirming too much, without bailing, roaming or wandering off when nature calls, like in the play?

Few of us can…

…but all of us can hope and dream ~ as well we should.

For Waiting is what it’s all about.

Because once you arrive, it’s time to get out of the pool.

And that’s no fun!

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I love this week’s Photo Challenge which is all about taking something and running with it – about going many steps beyond your wildest dreams.

Never believe that the impossible isn’t possible or that a dark and gloomy prognosis means the end of the track.

From a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, 8 months old…told IF he lived, he would be in a vegetative state and die by age 4…

  
…to Special Olympics, 2015 – Kissing a pretty girl fifteen years later makes it well worth coming out of a coma and surviving!

 Believe in the extraordinary – faith, hope and love are the greatest of gifts.

Thanks, God, for second, third and fourth chances. And tenth and seventy-seventh chances. 

You know, God, sometimes I think that Your lessons about faith, hope and love are as much about our aspirations as they are a reminder of Your unwavering faith, hope and love for us. It IS a two-way street, isn’t it? 

That when our ordinary faith, hope and love stray, You – our Rock – never lose those three things for us, and it is Your extraordinary faith in us, Your hope in our return and Your eterrnal love for us draws us back and is what causes such rejoicing among the angels when we return.

Many happy and extraordinary returns!

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How do YOU decide how much money or time to give to a cause?

Many Christian churches at this time of year may have a “Commitment Sunday” or something like it – a day when people can fill out a pledge card indicating what they intend to give to the church over the next year.

Some churches may not have the resources or the nerve to formalize this event, so they may simply set aside a sermon dedicated to the virtues of giving.

Although the plea to give may vary greatly from one denomination to another, the message boils down to the same thing: It takes money and time to run this place. Please give.

I greatly admire the many pastors, ministers, rabbis and priests whom I have heard give such a message – largely because the task of crafting an invitation to give is such a terribly tricky one. The message needs to hit home, it needs to be sensitive (since money is a such a touchy topic) and it needs to be moving.

The ability to develop a sermon which achieves all three of these things is surely nothing short of a miracle, and certainly requires at least a heaping tablespoon of divine intervention.

I’ve heard some really great sermons on giving and some pretty lousy ones. The great ones leave me feeling eager to give, willing to trust God in a genuine way – as opposed to foolishly pledging some amount that in my situation would be fiscally insane.

The great ones render me moved beyond words, amazed at the power of God and humbled at the nuts and bolts of meeting the needs of the church as an organization with which I choose to affiliate. They are empowering, motivating and cause me to feel included and hopeful, a part of the solution.

They also make me ponder what God’s will might be. Prayerful giving is a must.

The not-so-great sermons are the ones I unfortunately remember the most – and are probably the reason why so many people groan when it comes time to pledge to any cause. The worst ones leave bad tastes in the soul such as guilt, shame, fear, threats and even confusion. One pastor about four denominations ago in my walk urged us to “give hilariously.”

There are few things in life I find truly hilarious, so to pair money with “hilarious,” still has me scratching my head over that one. Besides, I believe charitable giving is a solemn, thoughtful, private act, far from hilarious. I think I understand what he was shooting for in theory, but it certainly didn’t help me decide how and what to give.

Money makes us squirm, from the guy who wins the lottery and suddenly has as many new “friends” as he has new dollars, to the guy who’s one paycheck away from bankruptcy. This should be our tip-off that money is indeed the root of all evil!

Nonetheless, the need for and use of money is our lot in this life, a force with which we must contend. Why, then, do people get so weird when it comes to giving?

I saw a reaction from someone who recently received in the mail a brochure and pledge card from a church. This person ranted that “it’s all about the money, that’s always what they’re after, that’s all they care about – it never fails – you go somewhere and eventually they hit you up for money.”

I tried to soften it by reminding this person that although a church is a place of worship and a place to connect with God, it still has utility bills, upkeep and other expenses like any other business or home.

But the heart of this person was hardened, and they preferred to think of their partaking in the month of Sundays as a free ride, something somebody else should pay for. And they turned their back and refused to go back.

Whose loss is THAT?

Giving, according to the Bible, should come from the heart. It is a willing act of sharing what originally was not ours to begin with. Our resources didn’t just drop into our lap, and it took a great deal more than our own God-blessed efforts to acquire what we have.

Really, we could all be disabled and unable to work, unable to play, unable to do anything but rely on the charity and good will of others – it only takes a snap-second to wind up in that situation.

So contemplate the sources of what you have on hand when you consider the extent of your giving. While giving shouldn’t cause a personal financial wipeout, it should definitely arise out of a deeply gracious acknowledgement of what you have on hand and what you believe is in your heart to give back.

Giving back – that’s the key.

And perhaps it’s not just money that you need to consider giving. God blessed you with talents, too – talents that can benefit His people, the neighbors the commandment says, we are to love.

A truly gracious receiver will never be insulted or judgmental about a gift of any size, no matter how small. And they will receive with the utmost of thanksgiving, something we would do well to remember as we Americans sit down to our next holiday feast in about a month.

No gift is insignificant. Every gift has meaning – remember the widow giving her only two mites. The smallest gifts can be the most meaningful and powerful.

I would be remiss not to add that giving is often an act of trust. The sky could fall tomorrow (read: wars, another Great Depression, disaster, Tribulation) – there is no way you or I can pledge anything with certainty. Every choice we make is a gamble and banks on the assumption that we will wake up tomorrow and life will be the same as it was yesterday.

On the morning after the big hurricane, our ears still popped after the 130 mph winds we withstood huddled with our children in an interior hall.

We went outside as angry clouds churned themselves northeast, giving way to sun. The sun afforded us the light to see that our world was no longer what it had been yesterday.

Katrina Destruction

We had no jobs to go to – everything was closed or destroyed, and even if anything was open, we couldn’t get to them because of the fallen trees and debris everywhere. There was work to be done, but it wasn’t the work we were used to in our workaday world.

Katrina Road Sign

Neighbors came outside as the morning progressed; we assessed the damage and assembled in the street. Together, we made plans to survive.

Neighbors with chain saws would take to the trees. Neighbors with freezers with no power and thawing food would take to the grills. Neighbors with generators would take to the neighbors who needed cool air, oxygen or other life-saving needs. Neighbors with boats took to the flooded roads down by the bayou to look for lost people, pets and to recover floating valuables.

We rolled up our sleeves, came together and collectively, made the best of everything, even though everything was the farthest thing we could imagine from status quo. Two weeks later, we were able to get through to main roads and road crews, National Guard and the Red Cross were able to get through to us.

There are so many ways to give. Please, dear friends, do not be turned off or scared away when your favorite organization or church you appreciate asks you for money, talents or resources.

That organization or church can only be as great as the collective greatness of those who nourish, feed and give back to it, both in times of feast and in famine. You never know when you’re going to need them.

Best yet, there is no greater feeling than to give, and to give willingly and cheerfully. Don’t worry that it’s not as much as the other guy, not as much as you’d like or as much as you think you “should” give.

Just give.

You will be blessed tenfold.

(Jesus wasn’t joking around when he fed the crowds with a few fish and some scant bread. And this is what turned up at my house early this afternoon when I got back from church after putting my meager pledge card in the collection plate (black drum in my child’s hands, red drum on table)):

2013-10-27_14-21-47_941

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