An old-fashioned invitation

We’re sort of old-fashioned that way. The way we close our Sunday worship time with an invitation to pray. Not the sit-in-your-seat-heads-bowed-eyes-closed kind of prayer. Well, that, yes, but also the kind of prayer that brings some people to the front of the chapel to kneel before God and their peers. That kind of old-fashioned invitation that isn’t always common these days. It’s not easy to make that walk. The one that has you making your way across the legs of the others on your row to walk down the aisle and lower your body in that position of humility that is nothing but strong.

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We came up this way, my husband and I. I remember daddy leading that final song on Sunday morning, so often it was ‘Just As I Am’ or “Have Thine Own Way”. The annual youth weekends with several hundred teenagers always had that Sunday morning altar call. We knew it was going to last for-ever and tried to volunteer someone to go forward to get this thing started because no one was leaving this room until someone went to that altar!

It was the same way at summer camp and Men’s camp and Women’s weekend: come, come forward and pray. 

In the traditional church setting weeks could go by with no one coming forward or the one little old person who knelt every week. But it’s different in this community of men fighting addictions of all kind. There is no hesitation when the word is given to come forward and pray for others, for yourself, bring your troubles and joys to God, here. At this mercy-seat.

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prayer

And they do. One after the other. I figure some are doing it thinking it might score some kind of points with “the Major”. It’s more show than heart but that’s not my concern. God will sort that out.

It was one of those weeks and Michael said it after the service when he turned to me and said, “There was power in here today”. Yes, there was. I felt it when the one I didn’t know stood to give testimony of God using another man to keep him from temptation. I felt the power in his weak voice as he struggled to tell of his fight for sobriety and I felt the power when so many men came forward to pray there was no room at the altar but they came anyway. That one came, on the platform to kneel, off to the side where a rail was covering some instruments. Another came with no place left to lean, and simply knelt in the middle of the floor. That position that could look weak to some, the body lowered to the floor, screams strength to me. God’s strength enabling them to bow without shame, and call on God.

Our prayers are heard from any position. Eyes open or closed. Head bowed or raised. Standing or sitting. Whispered or yelled or sung or silent. I’ve heard a man who would get overcome with laughter at times during prayer and John, John signs his spoken prayers.

Yes, there’s power when there’s prayer. All the time. All the time.


What’s really new?

Was it just yesterday we celebrated new life? No, more than new life, we celebrated death defeated. We celebrated the Son of God, whose body was beaten and crucified, whose dead body was carried to a tomb but death couldn’t keep him. We celebrated that: a resurrection!

taken by Tampa

Yesterday we gathered in our churches or outside services to celebrate this long-held belief that Jesus is the Son of God and that, yes, He Lives Today. As the old hymn says, “He lives within my heart”.

And today? Today we carry on. With our jobs, our classes, our routine. I’m asking myself, what’s really new? How does this belief in a man who defies death, who came to turn the worlds ways upside down, how does that change me? What was dead in me that is now alive in Him?

Easter service

Easter service

I looked across the group gathered outside in a park across the street from our A. R. C. Our group of men had joined together with members from the church down the street to celebrate Easter. I don’t know the stories from the church folks but I know for our men, they came looking for new life. They came to our doors needing to find a new way to live, to love, to hope. They came from the throes of addiction but aren’t we all in need of new ways to live, love and hope? We celebrate this new life Jesus gives but is that all we do? Celebrate it with Easter lilies and going to church? I’m preaching to myself, always to myself.

There is more to do than celebrate an empty cross. There are people to love and smiles to share and orphans and widows and giving that cup of cold water and caring for the lost and the smelly and the ones we don’t like. There is work to do if we are to defeat the chains of death. There is a new way to live. The way Jesus showed us. This is how we celebrate and this is how we live.


He Is Risen Indeed

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Then I went in too, and saw, and believed that he had risen— John 20:8


Man of Sorrows

prayer labyrinth

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Savior!

- Phillip Paul Bliss (1838-1876)

 


This Holy Week

Call it Passion Week or call it Holy Week but to me it feels like a week on a roller coaster I can’t get off. The highs are high and have us stretching our arms up, waving them gloriously and then grabbing the crossbar in front as the dip snatches our breath and we are holding on as we round the curves of life.

This Holy Week seems like the busy week. The week filled with things to do, to share, to experience, all quieting that voice telling me to remember to be. Stop. Breathe. Be. With Him.

Palm Sunday

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I love this week. The anticipation of sharing so many things in community awakens my energy and my senses go on alert. I am pulled into the knowing we are sharing something new with many. We are sharing hope to the hopeless and grace to all.

There’s a lot to tell about this week. It seems all of Jesus’ ministry was lived in this last week of his life. It all accelerates before our eyes and he is telling his followers that now, right when things ramp up and the crowds that follow are building and palm branches waving him in, he tells them he’s leaving. Gone. Soon. And they are confused.

It seems important to tell this story and I feel the rush of it to be told in this week and truth is, the story continues. What confused his followers, his inner circle of 12, is known to us. We see the Sunday that is coming after Friday and we can tell this story day after day.

So we will. This week we will tell it with the Prayer Labyrinth and Seder and solemnity of the Good Friday service. We will drape the black on the cross and place the crown of thorns around it. We will eat the matzoh and drink the grape juice in remembrance of him, of the One who became our sacrifice. And Sunday morning, outside with the sun streaming between the trees, we will rejoice that Jesus lives and because he lives we keep telling his story. The story that Jesus loves me, this I know.


The Cross Is Not Greater

It’s hard to find silver crosses, the kind you wear around your neck. I wore a gold one for years because it’s what mama sent me and it was simple, the style I like. I remember when our home church got a makeover and the cross that hung on the stage was transformed from a simple fashioned cross to one resembling a bookmark. It was framed with molding and a contrasting color in the middle, the cross now fastened to the wall against this red. It took some getting used to.

The chapel in our Center underwent renovations and it was the cross that drew questions. When there was no cross in sight the first few weeks the men asked.

The hymn sings about a rugged cross and I suppose it was. It wasn’t for looks but utilitarian purposes. What did you need other than wood strong enough to hold the weight of a man, hold the weight of a people?

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

Holy Land Tour  claims of being on the site of the birth of Christ

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present day Golgotha

present day Golgotha

There was a hillside where these public executions took place. In Jerusalem it was Golgotha, the place of the skull. Today, this hill sits above a bus terminal with a Muslim cemetery on top of it. It still sits high over an area, an area one can picture hoards of people gathering, crosses situated where everyone could get an unobstructed view.

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we focused on the palm branches and the people waving them or placing them on the ground for Jesus’ entry as they called out, “Hosanna!” Later we will focus on the bread and wine of the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples but already it’s the cross that occupies my thoughts. It’s symbol looms large as the shadow is cast.

Jesus says all who follow him must carry their cross too. It sounds harsh and I work to reconcile it with his promise to help carry our burdens. I wonder about the crosses we carry and the times we let them press us down as we try to carry it alone. I see many who carry the cross of addiction. It’s an easy one to see like the crosses atop the high steeples. Some of us tuck our crosses inside our collar, behind our shirts, trying to hide the weight dragging us down. It’s so much easier to disguise gossip as concern or depression as just a rough time that will pass. This cross called an emblem of suffering and shame doesn’t have to be the suffering that will kill us. We don’t have to die on our cross because Jesus did that on his. 

It’s a song I haven’t heard in years but the words came to mind today:

The cross is not greater than his grace

Our sin, is not ever, greater than his grace.

 


The Cross

It was that year, the year I was searching a bit, stretching into a new journey. I’d claimed my faith the summer before, held it as my own, no longer accepting the hand-me-down faith from my parents. So when I saw that crucifix hanging in the seaside shop on a weekend with my cousins, when I saw that bold statement not part of our faith tradition I bought it. Life was different, I was different and this was bold. For me.

No telling what daddy would have said but he wasn’t there, he’d left mama and she was the less reactive one. She was calm when she said, ‘we believe He [Jesus] isn’t on the cross anymore.’ And that made sense. Perfect sense really so I didn’t wear that crucifix much after that. No problems with the symbol but if I wanted to be bold I would be bold at saying that cross didn’t hold him then and it doesn’t hold him now.

But it is the cross, that cross with its promise and shame, that claims attention this week of the passion of Christ.

My friend, Cindy, over at Mama’s Empty Nest, is telling the story through her photography and I hope you’ll stop over to her place.  I keep telling my story with too many words and should take a cue from Cindy but we follow our hearts.

It’s a story about a cross because that’s where it all changed. A cross designed for slow death, a criminals death. A cross that held death but could not contain it. Let’s begin.

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Holy Land Tour

 

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taken by Tampa


“But wait! There’s more!”

Times like this my heart is so big and full with gratitude and joy and my face is beaming brighter than the Florida sun. It’s just been one of those evenings. The kind that can’t be scripted but should always be cherished and it is and I believe there will be more of these days. I believe it because I believe in a God who is changing lives every day.

The monthly awards are always a special time. You can gauge the attitude of the house at these meetings, the way the men cheer each other and the nicknames you discover. Tonight may be a little more dear as our speaker has been solid since the day he walked in over 3 years ago. I wasn’t sure about him at first. He has those droopy eyes like stoners have and I didn’t think he was serious. I questioned the house manager who assured me he was a great guy and yes, yes, he is. When Eric first came through our doors he looked my husband straight in the eyes with his droopy ones and said, “I’m here for the long haul” and three years later Eric is a valued employee.

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handing out birthday bags at our monthly awards

handing out birthday bags at our monthly awards

April awards

April awards

Eric has long moved out but comes to work in the warehouse everyday, working with the newest men, the men who aren’t sure why they’re with us or if they’re going to stay. The men still weak from their crack or heroin diet, the ones whose hands aren’t steady because they haven’t had a drink to steady them. Eric and Jeff (another exemplary employee with 12 years sobriety) work with these men and show these men what integrity and character is.

So he stood behind the microphone with his strong voice and focused eyes staring into our hearts and telling how his worst day ended in a prayer. A prayer in a crack house telling God, ‘if this is all there is for me take my life now’. So God did. He took that life, the old life that wanted crack and pills and shots and whatever he could get, God took that life and gave Eric a new one. Somehow, Eric got to our doors and when he walked through, he said he decided to abuse everything the program had to offer him the way he abused the drugs. So he used the counseling and 12 steps and used the Bible and prayer and he used it all. And God kept giving him more.

Yes, it was a day that was ending like that. A celebration that continues every day Eric lives to tell it. And like the crazy loud man on the commercial says, “But wait, there’s more”

We come home to see our daughter and granddaughter on FaceTime and when I sing out to the 6-year-old, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” she beams big and sings back “bright copper kettles with warm woolen mittens”. She has just watched both old and new versions of The Sound of Music and has ranked, in order, her favorite songs and our music worlds can join together and it is joyous.

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And once again, I hear the voice, “But wait!, there’s more!”

The message tone sounds on Facebook and I check it to read a note from Nick, celebrating 3 years the end of May. Nick who called me every Sunday night for a year after his grandma passed because he used to call her. Nick, who came through our program twice and relapsed but got up again and again and is finding the blessings of sobriety too. He was writing to tell us about a possible new job, an advancement and to say he misses us and will visit soon. Again, my heart swells up and my face beams a smile in an empty room.

In three hours time all of this. Blessing after blessing and God’s extravagance is poured out on me, an undeserving child who is prone to whining and sarcasm. But God says, ‘Wait, there’s more!’ There’s always more because this is how God loves his people.

 


Five-minute Friday {paint}

I’ve always used a light hand with color. Always easier to make darker than to lighten. Too much color scares me so I tread lightly, preferring to use a splash rather than a wall of color.

I don’t remember if I was 19 or maybe 23 but I’ll never forget her words. Slipping out of my row after church one Sunday, the tall lady who had her generations look of a southern lady stopped to greet me and offered these words: “I was always told if the barn needs painting, paint it.” 

Barn? What barn? It actually took me a moment to register she was talking about me, my face, my choice of makeup application.

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Mama never wore makeup. At all. Ever. She had no need really but I think she didn’t have the confidence and shied away from color she would have thought bold. Her eyes that pretty brown with the glisten of kindness. She needed no paint to cover them. I didn’t learn from mama about makeup or fashion but she didn’t will me to live by her choices. I poured over the magazines and kept in step with my time, my comfort with a light hand. A comfortable hand.

Words can cover us like thick layers of paint blotting out our true grain and texture. Her words may have stuck with me but they didn’t change my habits. She didn’t change my style and my choice to allow what shows most is me.

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Bakers blog and a host of bloggers joining in for Five-Minute Friday where we gather each week to free write on the word prompt provided by Lisa. To read others or join in, click here.


Such Extravagance

Church. The building, not the people. Church in a rented space in a strip mall; in a very old two-story house with peeling linoleum floors and creaking stairs. Once our church had been a funeral home, a place to remember the dead and now, it was a place to raise the dead in spirit.

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Holy Land Tour  Greek Orthodox church

 

Holy Land Tour

 

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Our church buildings have seldom looked like a church. No steeples or tall spires. Some had folding chairs rather than pews. The look almost always, sparse. Modest. A pulpit, a table called the “holiness” table and always, always, always, the mercy-seat. The altar. The place to humble yourself before God in prayer.

We were walking through the Vatican in Rome several years ago. Our tour group moving too fast for me to take in all the beauty. The ornate detailing and art wasn’t just in the Vatican but, it seemed, in every cathedral in Rome. Gold, marble floors and marble sculptures and stained glass that streamed light in a way it seemed heaven was shining  right down. It was a lot. Too much, I thought. I would have sided with Judas when he chastised Mary for using expensive perfume to pour on the feet of Jesus. Such extravagance, wasted, when it could have been used to feed the poor.

Holy Land Tour

Henry's iPhone pics

Israel tour

Nazareth

Last month we were in Israel and again, the churches were magnificent. The chandeliers dripped from the ceilings in the Greek Orthodox churches as gold painted frames hung heavy with paintings centuries old. I’ve been in museums with less. This wasn’t modern culture but the ancient traditions carried on. In days long ago when people lived spartan lives this was their church. I didn’t get it. It seemed to gloat in the face of their lack.

This was their museum, she said. Their education. This was their solace, their sanctuary from the day-to-day. Our tour guide was smart, this one. As she instructed us in the less obvious.

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Holy Land Tour

We had seen the dryness of the surrounding desert. We had glimpsed the nomadic life of the Bedouins and remember at one time, in that time, there was little beauty and much toil. I could see the dirt floors and imagine the smells of sweat that couldn’t be washed off with a daily shower. How the dust must harden like a scab and the escape the beauty of this house of God would offer. To know this beauty was lavished on you by a loving God. Yes, that is comfort from a hard life. That is worship.

I was critical of beauty being displayed in church. I was ignorant of the importance of that beauty. Of what it communicates about God, about his loving nature, his pleasure and joy to share such artistry. I failed to get how His story is told in the stained glass images. The Gospel message in pictures because few could read the words from the text.

Times are different. We are different. Not better, not worse, just different. The stories of our faith are told through multi-media. Projected on a screen, played from the stage by the worship band. Coming together still provides the solace from the week. Not the dusty grime of old but a calm for the harried pace of working parents just trying to get from Sunday to Sunday where they can exhale for a couple of hours.

The beauty once found in the buildings must now be carried in us. His beauty, in us. His radiance in kindness shown. His colors shown in our laughter and tears. We use to sing this old chorus that tells the true story:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”


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