We Gather Together

 

Lord willing, we have gathered for another Thanksgiving with our Florida family in the Panhandle. We’ll crowd around the table, extended to fit our number. The weather looks to be cool for an outside feast as we’ve had other years.

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annual gathering

annual gathering

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There will be warmth from the cooking and warmth from the laughter. I cannot imagine another family who laughs as much as we do and I’m happy it spreads so freely from generation to generation.

My cousin and her oldest will do most of the cooking. She is in her element hosting this crowd again. The crowd whose numbers shift year to year, some due to distance and travel constraints and some we’ve lost to their eternal heavenly feast. My uncle and in-laws all held places around this table, places that have now been handed down to sons.

Younger ones have been added and it takes some of death’s sting away seeing them extend the family’s joy.

Wherever this Thanksgiving finds you, by choice or circumstance or obligation, may you know God’s love. May you know you are enough. You failures, your mistakes, your disobedience, small faith, big pride, your addictions and imperfections, your hurts, habits and hang-up’s are enough.

His grace, mercy and love are big enough to cover our biggest sins. He loves us not because, but anyway.

For this, I give thanks.

 


Yes, Richard, there is a Thanksgiving

great is thy faithfulness framed

Anxious about the holidays? It’s hurricane season as one of the men in our program told me: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, hurricane season for folks in recovery.

It can be hurricane season for anyone: who to invite, which family to visit this year while sticking to the budget and fitting in the extra events on the calendar. Don’t forget the perfect family photo to put on your personalized Christmas cards.

 

thankful sobriety

My hope is to share with you some of our blessings. Starting with this unedited message via Facebook from Richard (this was part of a post originally published in 2011):

Dear Mrs. Major, I am the very grateful beneficiary who is being blessed with the restoration of my daughter back into my life. I have a son also, who hasn’t responded to me yet, but I know that God is faithful and He will restore that relationship too, as long as I am obedient (and trust in Him along with patience). I am so excited that my daughter is willing to forgive me! When my children were younger, we were once very close, and my addiction took me way off track, to jails, prisons, rehabs, the streets, Arizona, Baton Rouge, Albuquerque,, etc. I thought I was doomed to be a “crackhead” for the rest of my life. It’s only by the grace of God that I have so much hope for my future! Three years ago, I lost my mother to brain cancer within three weeks of her being diagnosed. She was all I had (other than my two children who didn’t want anything to do with me). When mom died, I went to prison shortly after that, for a case that had been pending. In prison, I realized that I had no one to count on, stay with, or even call when I got out. I decided to begin my new life in Baton Rouge LA, upon release from prison. I soon messed up there, so I took a train to Phoenix Arizona, only to mess up there, too. To make a long story shorter, I found myself back in Fort Lauderdale, living in the woods, even sleeping in an elevator when it got too cold. I was hopeless and pathetic, and didn’t even desire more than food and shelter when I showed up at the front door of the Salvation Army. Someone in the program told me that I looked like a cat dropped me off at the front door when I showed up here. When I walked in though, I knew I was in the right place immediately, and knew in my heart, that this was the last house on the block for me. This addiction has been a sixteen year nightmare for me, and I am so grateful to have another chance at life. This time, realizing and allowing Jesus to be first in my life. I am SO grateful for the Salvation Army, you and Mr. Major, the counselors,… EVERYTHING!!! But most of all, I am SO grateful to Jesus, who is restoring me and my life from the inside out. Thank you Jesus!!! Mrs. Major, thank you for everything, and if I can do anything for the benefit of the Salvation Army or give God the glory in any way, please let me know. By the way, my daughter has agreed to come to my graduation in February, and guess what? The second Tuesday of February falls on Valentines Day!!! Tell me that ain’t God and His great personality! Take care, and may God bless you and your family. Love, Richard

May you know God’s blessings in your life.


Measuring Thanks

When it comes to measuring, I tend to size up the wrong things. Why measure things that wither like the wildflowers along the road? Their beauty is bold in the noonday sun but soon they are gone, their duty done.

I wanted to measure thanks. To write out that for which we are grateful on little cards tucked inside the Sunday bulletins and heap them into the offering plates. A literal thank offering. We will not measure our words, not his against mine or measure our blessings but we will stack our thanks one on top of the other, all 100 of us telling and singing and writing THANKS BE TO GOD……..

We have to make a place for this in our lives. Sometimes it happens in the spontaneous way you say “God bless you” when the person behind you sneezes but most often, most often we don’t slow down long enough to consider those things in life to spell out T H A N K Y O U. Not just thank you to the air but thank you to God. To recognize He is the giver of life and breath and sun and rain and He is the shelter for our weary souls.

Here’s a glimpse inside our gathering when spoken and written thanks were share:

“My mom use to cry tears for her son but now she cries tears of joy for me.”P.

“Some of you know I use to bail, wanting the job back, the girl back, the dog back. Now I have God back and will graduate.” T.

Thanks notes 2

“Even when God says no, I know he’s able.” A.

“The worst day in here is better than the best day out there.” D.

Thanks notes

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Let’s measure our thanks. Gathering the words and stacking them into heaps so tall it will take a lifetime to read them all because a lifetime of giving thanks is the best way to measure up a life well lived in Christ.

Take 2 minutes to view some video excerpts of our Offerings of Thanks


Thanks and Giving

The wind is whipping right through the palms in front of our window. That one frond is going to drop with much more of this wind. It’s going to drop, weary from holding on, just like me some days.

It’s an odd mix of adrenaline and exhaustion. Weeks like this when we’re preparing for a special Sunday and a 9 hour road trip north to spend Thanksgiving with family coming right back into the start of Advent….yeah, weeks like this can make me think my laptop is missing when it was forgotten at home. Whew!

I thrive on these times. I’m more aware of those around me, the wonderful support staff we have and the laughs we share working together to make those in our care feel welcome, feel like they belong.

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These are the loud and quiet times. Moments of loud laughter when Eve shares a story from her 6-year old or the kind of laughter we try to squelch when words are whispered to another in a meeting. Usually me doing the whispering causing the unlucky person sitting next to me to laugh a little too loud and then we all laugh.

The wind still whips and it’s blowing over those palm branches like this headache has been blowing through me the past two days. The pain tends to mimic the wind, raging one minute and a brief respite the next. Like the wind, the pain will subside. It always does. And we go on, go on to the thanks giving that we find in the sounds of not one, but a chorus of laughter.

This is a good time and bad time in our little place in the world. This old building built for the purpose of giving second and third and countless chances to men who’ve gotten off course. They come through our doors head held low, eyes and hearts empty. Some wearing shame and others hiding behind a bravado that isn’t becoming or fooling anyone.

For some, this day will be full of thanks. We’ve tried to focus on that, to look for reasons to be thankful rather than resentful. We’ve talked about Job and how in all of his suffering he never cursed God, never said “I’m through”.

We’ve talked about the Apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh, his handicap the Message calls it. We talked about how he prayed again and again for God to take it away but God’s answer was no. And some thanked God for the label of alcoholic because that brought them to God. A grateful alcoholic who knows more of the Apostle Paul’s struggle than me.

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thanks and giving

Sunday we will write our thanks on little cards and we will pile them up in the offering plates because this is the currency we offer God – hearts of gratitude because we are

Grateful alcoholics
Grateful addicts
Grateful perfectionists and workaholics.
We are grateful failures who stumble and find our way back up because grace bends down and lifts us up.

We will fill this building with the smell of turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie. We will deck the halls and decorate our doors. We will celebrate the lost who are found and we will raise our chorus of laughter to the God who gives us breath and life and mercy as we say Thank You to the Creator and Giver of new life.


Five-Minute Friday {notice}

I notice the caked up spatters on the stove from his breakfast.

I notice the dog’s tumbleweeds of fur blown across our floor.

I notice my forgetfulness keys and returning emails and I cannot believe I forgot to take my laptop to work!

It was our first appointment as pastors. She was a faithful member, there when the doors opened, ready to call out to us that a new table covering was needed in the foyer and how people die in March and what did they do wrong to have sent them brand new pastors! Yes, she had an eye for things. And a voice.

I have that eye. The eye for things not quite right but it’s an eye I most often turn toward myself. Noticing every wrong-turned word and misplaced stroke of the pen. Every extra 2 pounds and her talent is better than mine and at least I say specific and not pacific like he does.

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palm trees

 

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God, save me. Save me from the bitterness that creeps into my heart and comes out of my mouth. The snappy comebacks that lurk in my mind waiting for an opportunity to prove my wit. Save me from trying to prove I am anything because I am only nothing without you.

Let me be a woman who notices in word and action your beauty and grace. Give me voice to sing of your majesty when the wind blows through the palm trees and the fronds bend low to graze the sand. Let me tell of how your grace is like that wind blowing through our lives, bending us low to scoop up more of you, thrilling us with your breath.

Let me notice you in this world that many say is lost to you. Let me notice your ways and not mine or theirs. Let me notice you.

Linking up with a host of bloggers for a 5-minute free writing party we call Five-Minute Friday. Kate Motaung hosts this weekly bash and all are invited.


Throwback Thursday {It’s a girl!}

Was it that long ago when a baby’s gender was unknown until the birth?

It doesn’t seem too long ago that pregnant women bought special clothes to “hide” our baby bumps that turned into big baby bellies. That’s right, we shopped at maternity clothing stores and wore maternity swim suits. No baby belly baring bikini’s for us, no siree, we wore the kind our grandmothers would be proud of!

Dress I made to hide the baby bump and grow with it :)

Dress I made to hide the baby bump and grow with it :)

In what seems like the dark ages now, we had no sonograms. No boppy’s or timers on baby swings. We had umbroller strollers that were little more than a vinyl sling between the stroller’s metal legs. Our babies heads slumped down causing older women to stop and comment about how that must be bad for the baby’s neck. You don’t even want to know what breast pumps were like in those days. The horrors of it all ;)

It doesn’t seem that long ago that a little peanut of a girl with a headful of dark hair was placed on my belly by the Doctor.

Heather Lee - Nov. 18, 1978

Heather Lee – Nov. 18, 1978 (the marks are on the photo and not the baby)

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With our first child in 1978

With our first child in 1978

Grandma becoming great-grandma. We miss her so.

Grandma became great-grandma (with aunt Connie peeking from behind). We miss her so.

Her daddy chose her name: Heather. Her aunt Connie suggested Lee for the middle name and when we said it it sounded like one name – Heatherly. And so this 6 pound 9 ounce miracle made us parents and our parents grandparents.

At times the memories are colored with that filter of the 80’s, the hazy quality of a Polaroid. But when I look in her eyes so deep brown you swear you can drown in them, I can scarcely believe where the years have gone. Even as I look at her with her daughter, the time is liquid and fluid moving with the ease of low tide.

We had tons of polaroids. Visiting my mom in Yakima, WA.

We had tons of Polaroids. Visiting my mom in Yakima, WA.

My brown-eyed girls.

My brown-eyed girls.

It’s a girl. A small, careful, deliberate first-born girl who was a leader from the time she was 5 years old and tossed the older boys out of the church nursery.

A girl who played all the team sports offered in school and learned how to handle disappointment, defeat and gracious winning.

She took pencil to sketch pad and honed her drawing skills. She studied the way her brother thought it all came natural but this girl has always made things look easy in her life. Maybe it’s her gentle smile that comes as easy as her laughter. Maybe it’s her faith, the one she took as her own at a young age and has continued to mine its depths and build deeper into God’s saving grace. Maybe it’s that she has always known she is loved.

This girl who has long been smarter than her mama and become one of my closest friends. My girl who is every bit a woman but let’s just keep saying girl. I don’t know, it just makes me feel… better ;)


A few gentle words for Wednesday

Maybe this is all we need today.

His gentle spirit


Trading nothing for something

Psalm 103-4a

These words are meaningful to me. Meaningful because I believe in hell.

I believe in a place of eternal torment and damnation. I believe to be separated from God for eternity is hell. I believe hell will be filled with bad people and good people. Good people who have done good things, lived a good life but did it all on their own, never bending to acknowledge the need for a Savior, who is Jesus Christ.

Most importantly, I believe in redemption.

***

Mama put the wet sponge in a water-filled dish, laid the stack of green stamps in front of me and gave me the book. I sat at the kitchen table sticking those stamps in the S&H Green Stamps book until enough were filled to take to their store and redeem them for a clock or dishes or something practical.

The stamps were useless on their own. Their value was in the redemption.

***

Holy Land Tour

I’m at a loss to describe redemption. The kind that makes something out of nothing. I see it all around us yet how do I explain how one comes to that point of wanting to be redeemed? Of wanting to take in your plain, ordinary stuff and get something better.

Sometimes I think it’s easier for the men in our program because they come through our doors with little. Opportunities gone. Housing gone. Jobs and money gone. Family angry and withdrawn. Who wouldn’t want to trade that in for something better? Trade nothing for something.

For us, living in ease and comfort, what prods at our heart telling us there is better? Not more money or power. Not a better house or car but a better life where the external trappings mean less than the inner peace. What reveals the lie that being good is not enough?

Maybe it’s in having those things. The comfort and ease of life. The knowing the bills will be paid, the health insurance, the full refrigerator, maybe it’s in having the stuff that I realize the value of redemption. Redemption that can’t be bought with good works. Its value so high it had to be bought with blood and Christ paid the price in full. For me. For us.

I gave my nothing for his everything.


Five-Minute Friday {still}

He calls me his hummingbird.

Our offices are side-by-side and hears my chattering on the phone or with folks stopping by for a moment or two. Most of the time they come by for something work related but the conversation flits about landing here and there and, hopefully, ending with smiles or laughter.

full moon

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We turned the corner and saw the moon, the big, full, golden moon, hanging in the sky as though it was deliberately placed just so. “Look! It’s gone. Go around, let’s find it” and I reached for my iPhone.

We turned corners and drove the overpass. We turned down a road that ended with chain link fencing and while we could see this beautiful moon, the kind you want to capture in digital form to post to Instagram or Facebook or text the son a few states away, we didn’t get it. Not without noise. We are surrounded by noise.

The noise of street lights glared from every angle. It’s the same when we try to look into a starry sky. The lights from the nearby ball field are aglow. Our street with houses nestled into zero lot lines is illuminated by more lights. The sounds of the traffic on the street behind our house can be heard most of the day. There is so much noise.

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He calls me his hummingbird because he says I flit about, rarely still. In meetings I finger paint doodle on my iPad. At home, my fingers are tapping the keys or holding needle and thread or paint brushes or doodle in a sketch pad.

sun beams

I’ve discovered the stillness found in movement. These movements. The ones painting on a canvas or sewing an ornament. Tapping out words on a different kind of canvas and feeling the calm coming with the words.

These are the times I am still. Still with purpose and joy that blocks out the noises of the every day. The stillness where God quiets my soul and breathes in my heart: He is here.

Linking up with a flash mob of Five-Minute Friday bloggers. Free writing for 5 minutes with the word prompt given by host Kate Motaung. Jump in the party!


Healing for every disease

Psalm 103-3b

It only took until verse 3 to make me pause in my efforts to write out my specific thanks as listed in Psalm 103.

 This verse: “He heals your disease – every one”, stops me.

I know the answer. I know the ultimate healing the Psalmist is talking about. The healing when this body is gone and we find eternal peace and restoration in heaven. That is the healing that will last and the one that gives us hope in the midst of today’s struggles and disease.

It’s not my favorite answer. I’d prefer the answer that works like this:

“Dear Lord, please heal Linda of her cancer.” PRESTO – HEALED!

“Father God, please take this dementia away from mama.” PRESTO – HEAELD!

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Isn’t that the kind of healing you want? Isn’t that the kind of God you expect? The kind who hears our prayers and answers them. Just like we want.

Instead, I find a God who works his way and not mine. I find a God who directs me to the doctor when my heart seems to be fluttering away and the tears won’t stop. I find a God whose healing is at the end of a prescription for anxiety meds.

I’ve found God heals through community and the 12 Steps. This healing is slow and more of a process and relapse is common but it’s a daily healing that depends on work. It’s a healing that embodies the spiritual practice of faith and works.

The healing I’ve found most often, the one that’s my least favorite, the healing that cures every disease is death. Death to self and life in Christ.

Job, the bible character most noted for his patience in suffering, was an example of healing. His family and possessions had been taken from him. Pain and physical suffering had consumed his body. His friends and his wife urged him to curse God. Others told him to seek forgiveness because surely all this disease and loss was brought on by sin.

In Job, healing looked like faith. Unshakeable faith that refused to curse God. Job died to himself when he endured physical suffering and pain. Died to himself to live in God. The here on earth God. Today and tomorrow.

This is healing. For every disease.

This is the healing for which I thank God.


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