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.

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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.


This is how we order sin

Psalm 103-3a

We like lists. Top Ten lists, Best Of lists, Best Dressed lists, even Worst Of lists. We like ranking things and putting order to what we can of our world.

But how does one order sin? 

In our work with men in recovery we’ve learned, along with them, that confession is part of honest recovery. Working through the 12 Steps are suggestions to admit wrongs, even seeking amends with those we’ve wronged. The same teaching is in the bible (James 5:16) but, again, my experience has shown we often ignore this in the church. It would be messy, after all. And isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness?

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prayer

After the sermon has been given, prayers have been said and sacred words shared, at the close of this time set apart on Sunday morning, the call is given. The church calls it an altar call. An invitation to come forward. To actually move from your seat to come to the front of the chapel and kneel at an altar. To come and pray. Most often the invitation is given to come and pray in confession, seeking forgiveness for our sins.

The sins we like to rank.

His is worse than mine and yours isn’t that bad and that one, yes that one, is the worst. The worst!

This is what we need to stop. Just stop. Stop talking like homosexuality is the worst sin ever and stop comparing his sins to your sins and conveniently forgetting gluttony is not a virtue and stop ranking how good we are because that’s the real motive here: to feel better about ourselves.

This is how we order sin. We seek forgiveness.

But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins. 1 John 1:9

Our prayer today: At the start of this new week we thank you, God, for your love and mercy so great that you choose to forgive us of our every sin. Those things we’ve done that bring sorrow to you and hurt to others or ourselves, those things, God. Those thoughtless words we’ve said, the lack of compassion shown, the thinking better of ourselves than we ought, even those things, you forgive. Thank you that you forgive – every one.


Five-Minute Friday {turn}

Moving has played a major part in our lives. State to state and back to the original state. Time zones traveled and accents explored, colloquialisms learned. At times it’s gotten me turned around into thinking I discovered a new store when it was the same one I’d been to but from a completely different direction. Those are the times my husband wonders if there isn’t something to this blonde thing.

You’ve heard me talk about the lack of visible season change in South Florida. There are no turning of colors. Surely palm trees are an evergreen. The winds pick up, the humidity lowers, the surf temperature retreats to the 70′s, enough to keep the most of the locals out from venturing in past our knees. The traffic increases as the snowbirds migrate as their season turns.

Psalm 103-2

But there is a turning this time each year. While we’re not prompted by nature, the ads remind us of the season approaching. Our hearts start that nudge toward planning for the  holidays. Honestly, I look forward to sinking thoughts and heart into this time of naming our thanks. My daily grumbling and whining is exposed as I even consider the word Thanksgiving. I’m embarrassed I would need a season to turn my heart more toward God’s presence in my life but that is my weak flesh, weak spirit.

Jamie Wright @Jamie the Very Worst Missionary writes:

“…blessed does not mean pleased. Blessed does not mean happy. Blessed does not mean fulfilled. It doesn’t even mean fed or clothed or housed or healthy…
What it really means is that you are not alone, for God is with you.
God’s blessing is His presence.”

His presence doesn’t waver. There is no turning away from me when I fall – again. His presence is the blessing, always.

Today I’m counting the thanks for his presence in the midst of an old building filled with believers and doubters, sinners and saints, peaceful and haters.

I’m counting thanks for his spirit being present where we are.

I’m counting thanks that his presence is enough.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of Friday-loving, word-loving bloggers to write for 5 minutes on the word prompt given by Kate. Join the party and add your voice to Five-Minute Friday.


Thankful from head to toe

Psalm 103-1

We don’t have the live band we did in Memphis. We don’t have any musicians during our midweek Celebrate Recovery meeting nor do we have a group of men familiar with songs more often heard in church. My experience has taught me men aren’t the ones to sing out the most save a few who are swept up in the emotions of the music.

Dorothy blesses us on Sundays volunteering to play the piano, the hymns are her comfort keys. On occasion, with plenty of notice and practice we’re blessed with two or three men putting together live praise for us to join and join they do. This is what they really like but we’re limited.

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Eriq singing edit

Midweek we depend on the recorded music, the video’s made for congregations like ours. They have their favorites and there’s always a slight challenge for me trying to find new while keeping the comfortable.

There are some songs that pull at me so much that I nearly force the men to mumble their way through praying they will feel what I feel. 

Alumni Sunday

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I should admit here that there’s a bit of control and orchestration going on. It’s as if I’m trying to conduct God when I plan how it will go: prayer requests, song, prayer. Yes, just like that because the song is a prayer itself and will move us to know we are loved by God and we need to know that. So, ready, God? On cue, 1, 2, 3…….and it doesn’t go that way. Again. Because what I feel isn’t always felt by others. My rhythm isn’t the only one in the room. But God…..

Oh, how he loves us, oh

I sit in the back running the media, thinking I’m directing everyone including the Holy Spirit. I only hear them sing quiet because I’m behind but…

Oh, how he loves us so

I see one man nod at the words on the screen and a smile and when the music goes quiet I hear their voices singing low,

Yeah, he loves us, oh how he loves us, oh….

I am thankful for their voices, quiet and low, still and silent, trembling and strong, laughing and bold. I am thankful for the voices of men who have come through our doors unsure and sometimes scared. I am thankful for them from head to toe and I will bless the Lord because, yeah, He loves us so.


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