Monday, September 21, 2015

5 year blogging anniversary (along with some reflections prior to the statistics)

How often do you miss your anniversary?!?!  Maybe it depends on which "anniversary", right?!?!  Well, My 5 year blogging anniversary was September 3rd.  I missed it.  I didn't really "miss" it.  I knew it was a reality.  But I wasn't able to take my yearly moment to acknowledge it.  In fact, I'm later this year than I was last year.  Last year I posted on 9/17.  This year it's later than that.  I like to do a 'looking-back-over-the-past-year post' each year. 
Without looking at the statistics, I don't think I've written as much this past year.  [In fact, the blog shows that in 2013 I wrote 130 posts total, in 2014 I wrote 91 posts total and so far this year in 2015 I've written 38 posts.] My focus was on finishing seminary last year and it was my hardest year ever with Hebrew studies, a J-term (though not new to me), and a full load in the Spring time (first time ever).   Added to my studies this past year, I went through the journey of Provisional Elder in the United Methodist Church.  That meant that I was working on paperwork in the fall, preparing bible study materials and a sermon, and preparing for the interview in the new year. 

Somehow, someway, I made it through all that stuff last year.  Wow.  What a ride.

Now life is slower, calmer, etc., right?!?!  Not so much.  With my first appointment being a parish appointment of three churches in three different communities, I am in learning mode quite a bit.  I am blessed to have a co-pastor in this appointment who knows the ropes and together with the laity leadership we are seeking God's guidance for our parish and individual churches.

But I don't have much time to reflect, much less, simply "be still".  Though I do carve out time daily to do both.  It may not be as much as I want or need, but it is some.  There are days when I am TOO busy to NOT stop and "be still".  When I recognize that, I stop.  I breathe.  Then, I move on.

I say all this as an introduction (or rather an excuse as to why I haven't been blogging).  When I started this journey in 2010, I did so because of a nudging from the Holy Spirit.  It was to get out the things inside me spiritually and to share with others on the journey.  Even though I haven't always been able to make the time to write due to life's other responsibilities, I continue to blog for the same reasons today-- it is part of my spiritual journey and the nudging to share is still here.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me.  It is a blessing to share in conversation with those who leave comments along the way.  I welcome dialogue on the journey and would like to hear about your journey. 

Blessings on your journey,

Debra ☺


Now, let's get on to the 5 year blogging anniversary statistics!

As I have done with the other yearly reviews, I will share the countries that have visited my site, the top ten countries overall, the numbers for the monthly readership for the past year, and the top 10 posts overall.

Over the past year, the monthly readership hits (according to the stats chart) has been:

September 2014........3086
October 2014............2833
November 2014........1508
December 2014.........1790
January 2015.............2582
February 2015...........1972
March 2015...............1885
April 2015.................2275
May 2015..................1944
June 2015..................1856
July 2015...................2181
August 2015..............1771
September 2015........ 769 (to date and moment)

TOP TEN COUNTRIES OVERALL: (Numbers reflect hits since last year where I was able to compare.)

United States       56,878  (14,016)
Germany             12,060        (780)
Russia                    8,987     (3,373)
France                    3,039     (1,464)
United Kingdom    1,476       (155)
China                       1,066        (54)
Canada                      914       (100)
Poland                       613         (78)
Italy                           512

Based on the comparisons from last year, the United States, Russia, and France are the top post readers of these countries. 

TOP TEN POSTS (overall):  (Numbers reflect hits since blog was posted; not solely past year)

Some notes from two chapters in Conversion in the Wesleyan Tradition  (May 7, 2013)  [9846]

Thoughts and quotes from Jesus Calling over the last few days and weeks  (November 24, 2011) [2462]

Academy #32 Tú has venido a la orilla / Lord, You Have Come  (October 3, 2012) [1045]

Jesus Calling--December 30th (December 30, 2011) [633]

Jesus Calling--January 1, 2012 (January 1, 2012) [631]

Pushing 5...reflections of an example of living well from Will (May 5, 2014)  [342]

Hogar Metodista...Methodist Children's Home of Costa Rica (August 6, 2012) [466]

Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O'Connor (February 4, 2013) [364]

 "A Space of Love"... quotes and reflections from Macrina Wiederkehr's chapter in Abide (May 15, 2013) [296]


United States, France, Russian, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Ukraine, Poland, Turkey, Australia, Romania, Switzerland, Ireland, China, Malaysia, Moldova, Spain, Taiwan, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Netherlands, India, Portugal, Slovenia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Mexico, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Iraq, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, Cambodia, Netherland Antilles, Venezuela, South Korea, Italy, Belarus, Serbia, United Arab Emirates, Latvia, Hungary, Lebanon Colombia, Malta, Laos

(Unless I've left out a place, which is a possibility, I count 43 different locations.)

Previous anniversary blog posts:

Blogging...tomorrow makes one year 9/2/11
2 Year Blogging Anniversary This Month! 9/23/12
Tomorrow is my 3 year blogging anniversary 9/2/13
4 year blogging anniversary! 9/17/14

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Living in union with God...silence and being still in God's presence

This morning's reading from Jesus Calling (September 16) by Sarah Young is a wonderful reminder of 'who' and 'whose' I am.  Here are some of the words I read in my devotional time: "I designed you to live in union with me.  This union does not negate who you are; it actually makes you more fully yourself."

More fully me.  More the me that God created me to be.  The more time I spend with the Creator God, the more I become more fully me.  That's such a little thing, yet such a big thing.  If I am truly desiring to live more like the example modeled for me, why don't I "simply" spend time with my Creator?!?!?!

"Be still and know that I am God"-- Psalm 46:10.  That has been a life verse for many years now.  A verse that I have been trying to live into and have been able to live into some, here and there.  Currently, I am attempting to incorporate silence into my life daily.  Not "quiet" time, but silence.  I could have quiet time 24/7, where I read and read and read.  Silence time is that "sitting time" with God, where you just sit.  You don't read, you don't think, you simply are.  "Be still."  In those times of being still, you are in God's presence, with God, resting in God's presence.

As I have been working on my daily stillness journey, I have found it much more challenging than when I go to centering prayer and enter the silence for 30 minutes.  Not that one is supposed to judge one's self as they attempt this or grow in this, but sometimes even the 10 minutes of silence that I attempt in silence seems like an eternity.... or it is met by so much resistance, internally or externally.

But because I know the importance of being still and knowing God my creator, I press on.  I press on to make that space to simply "be" with God, to rest in God's presence, to be with God.

Further along in today's Jesus Calling devotion: "Find fulfillment through living close to Me, yielding to My purposes for you.  Though I may lead you along paths that feel alien to you, trust that I know what I am doing.  If you follow Me wholeheartedly, you will discover facets of yourself that were previously hidden.  I know you intimately--far better than you know yourself."

Spending time in silence (and solitude) allows me that listening time with God the Creator who knows me best.  It allows me that space to make room for God to work in me.

I have finally picked back up Ruth Haley Barton's book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, that I had started several years ago.  This book (and a Clergy Vitality group using the book) is helping me get into a daily practice while I am still trying to make it to the weekly Centering Prayer group.

The song "The Summons" by John Bell sums up the relationship call and answer between us and God.  We sang it this past Sunday at one of the three churches.  It always blesses, encourages, and challenges me when I hear it.

Here are the lyrics:

verse 1--Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?  Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?  Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

verse 2-- Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?  Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?  Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?  Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

verse 3--Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?  Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?  Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

verse 4--Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?  Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?  Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

verse 5--Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.  Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.  In your company I'll go where your love and footsteps show.  Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.


I know that God continues to call my name.  God designed me and continues to draw me into relationship.  As I answer that call, I become more fully who I was created to be.  I find myself playing the Native American flute, making tie-dye shirts, going into all kinds of areas of God's kingdom to show the light and love of God.... because I do trust my Creator and I will follow those footsteps.

How about you?

Blessings on your journey,


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Reflection... living into who the Creator created me to be

This week has been a week of more reflection than normal (it seems).  There have been several devotions I've read, one my husband sent to me, quotes I've seen on social media, songs I've heard, and things I've read in books that have had me thinking. 

I have been reconnecting with some friends over the past few weeks and that has been a blessing.

Also, as we came into the month of September, I found myself beginning to think about my dear friend Leila who passed away suddenly last September 7th.  Leila's unexpected passing last September was the beginning of a year full of deaths.  As is the case for many people that have gone on, I still miss Leila and think of her often.  I am reminded of her as I look at the icon she gave me that sits in my office, when I wear the red cross, and when I walk the labyrinth at Burks UMC. 

In my reflection time yesterday, I realized once again how grateful I am for The Upper Room Academy for Spiritual Formation. God used both a 5 Day Academy in 2010 in TN and the bilingual 2 Year Academy (#32) to meet me where I was and to take me along the journey to a place where I am more my true self, more whole, and living more into who God created me to be.  Without the rhythm of the 2 year Academy, I don't think I would be where I am today in ministry or life.  It strengthened me, gave me encouragement and affirmation through the community, structure, teachings, and rhythms.  I am grateful to have been able to go on that journey, especially while in seminary working on the M.Div. 

Here are some of the reflections from the week that have been on my heart and mind:

There have been nuggets of truth and encouragement throughout the week from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  From September 2-- "Living in dependence on Me is a glorious adventure."  From September 3-- "Let the dew of My Presence refresh your mind and heart."  "As dew refreshes grass and flowers during the stillness of the night, so My Presence revitalizes you as you sit quietly with Me."  "A refreshed, revitalized mind is able to sort out what is important and what is not."  From September 4--"In the intimacy of My Presence, you are energized."

On Friday (September 4), Riley forwarded a devotion to me from Every Man Ministries on  It was about Jesus being rich in sacrifice and how Jesus sacrificed time, energy, effort, and comfort in order to connect with people.   I included a link to this devotion because so much of it spoke to me.  I hope you'll take a few moments and click on the link and check it out for yourself.

Yesterday I heard a new song (for me) by Casting Crowns on 91.5 Family Radio, "Just Be Held".  As I listened to the lyrics, I found many of them to resonate with life-- mine or others.  "Your world's not falling apart; it's falling into place."  It turns out that the song was written in 2013.  How have I not heard it until now?!?!

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you're tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There's freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your worlds not falling apart, its falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
If your eyes are on the storm
You'll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You'll know I always have and I always will
And not a tear is wasted
In time, you'll understand
I'm painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands
Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you'll find Me
And where you are, I'll hold your heart
I'll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won't let go

As I continue to live into the weekly rhythm of studying, preaching, going into community, seeking to know the people in the three churches to which I've been appointed and to get to know the community in which they live and worship, I know that the only way I can live into my calling is for me to keep making time to stop, be still, to spend time with God, to be re-energized and refilled.  Being able to hear and listen to the One Voice is more important than ever because I'm not just living my life as a follower, but also as a leader.  In order to lead well, I need to listen well. 

Two final things. 

Before I preached this morning's double header at Flintstone UMC and Simpson UMC, I was at the Flintstone rock church (which is in the Ripley's Believe It or Not records) and opened the front doors and took a look up at Lookout Mountain.  As I gazed upon that majestic view, the words of the Psalmist came to mind: Psalm 121:1-2--"I lift up my eyes to the hills--from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

As I drove home today, I saw a scene in the clouds that reminded me of a smiley face.  Upon further inspection when I got home, it looks more like a bow tie underneath than a mouth.  You can use your own imagination. 

May you live into who the Creator has created you to be and may you be open to listening to the Creator's voice along the way.
Blessings on your journey, 


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Glow in the Dark... a song by Jason Gray-- lyrics, video, reflection

This song, "Glow in the Dark" by Jason Gray, has been on the radio for several months now.  I find myself singing along and smiling every time I hear it.  Not that all the lyrics are upbeat, because they aren't.  The lyrics include difficult times, but the song resonates with me.  It's a song that touches me.  I've wanted to include it in my blog for a while now, but if you've noticed, I really haven't been blogging since I started preaching weekly.  I keep telling myself I'll post my sermons, but then I'm working on the next week's sermon.  Then I tell myself I'll make the time and post a blog post of a month's worth of sermons (watch out!).  We'll see.  For right now, for today, I'm going to post about "Glow in the Dark".  Because that's all I have time to do.  I have to spend some time tweaking tomorrow's sermon and finishing out a 10 page paper due on Monday.

As I listen to the song and reflect upon the lyrics, what catches my attention?  Well, admittedly, I do think of those cool light sticks that glow in the dark, lightning bugs, and sparklers-- things that show their light in the dark.  But that's not all that comes to mind as I hear the song.  I recognize the places in me that have been broken, the dark places.  When I am going through difficult times, I am encouraged to keep going.  Whatever the past, whatever the present, I can be strong and stand firm, knowing that God loves me and God's love will shine in me and through me.  God's love can and will radiate through me as I allow it to.  And the beauty of allowing God's love to shine through brokenness is that is shines in ways we can't even imagine.  I am reminded of light shining through broken glass or stained glass and the beauty of the light that radiates through.  That is the light that can shine through as God's love radiates in and through each of our lives as we continue to walk the journey with the One who knows us and loves us.

As I read my morning devotion this morning (August 22) from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, these words went along with the theme for this song: "Refresh yourself in My holy Presence.  Speak or sing praises to Me, and My Face will shine radiantly upon you.  Remember that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Me.  You have been judged NOT GUILTY for all eternity.  Trust Me, and don't be afraid; for I am your Strength, Song, and Salvation." (p. 245)

Wherever you are on the journey today, may you find joy in the journey and if there is any darkness in your life, may you glow in the dark!



"Glow in the Dark", Jason Gray, 2015.


Sometimes the world feels like a mess
Full of drama, full of stress
And life puts a fist right in your ribs
You can hide if you choose to
And no one would even blame you
Or you can let them see how you deal with it
That even in the darkest place
His love can make you radiate

Doesn’t matter how deep, how dark the night is
Keep hoping, keep on shining
And they’ll see His light burning in your heart
And if the road gets rough, just keep your head up
Let the world see what you’re made of
That His love’s alive in your deepest parts
Like a flame, like a burning star you can shine right where you are
He made you to glow in the dark

Don’t be ashamed of your past
If you’re shattered like a piece of glass
The more broke you are the more the light gets through
Show your wounds and your flaws
Show them why you still need the cross
Let them see the work He’s doing in you
That even in the darkest place
His love can make you radiate

Doesn’t matter how deep, how dark the night is
Keep hoping, keep on shining
And they’ll see His light burning in your heart
And if the road gets rough, just keep your head up
Let the world see what you’re made of
That His love’s alive in your deepest parts
Like a flame, like a burning star you can shine right where you are
He made you to glow in the dark

Doesn’t matter how deep, how dark the night is
Keep hoping, keep on shining
And they’ll see His light burning in your heart
And if the road gets rough, just keep your head up
Let the world see what you’re made of
That His love’s alive in your deepest parts
Like a flame, like a burning star you can shine right where you are
He made you to glow in the dark
Glow in the dark
Doesn’t matter how
Glow in the dark
Doesn’t matter how

Music video:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Come and Rest"-- today's sermon

Today's sermon-- "Come and Rest".

These are the typed notes, not necessarily what was shared verbatim in either church.  In fact, I added a section about heading home Thursday after SOULfeast and about hearing the news of what had happened in Chattanooga.  At first, all I read in Facebook posts was "pray for Chattanooga" when I stopped along the Nantahala at Kelly's on the River to get my lunch.  Then, I found another post that explained why everyone was asking for prayer.  I mentioned that even though I had just spent a week filling up my cup and being renewed, it was instantly emptied.  I took my lunch and found a spot on the Nantahala to eat, rest, and pray.  I needed more time to "come and rest".  I needed to bring my burdens to God, again. [Not shared this morning in sermons: I found myself stopping quite a bit on my journey home Thursday.  Near the Ocoee lake to check out a cabin I had spent many summers in as a child and then the Cherokee Removal site near Blythe's Ferry and a cornfield.  I stopped to reflect, renew, and pray.  I prayed my flute at the Cherokee Removal Site.]  Sometimes, our need to "come and rest" is moment by moment.

I shared some of the above during the sermon at some appropriate spot.

For what it's worth, here are today's notes and Scripture passage.  Maybe there is something here for someone.

Blessings on your journey,



"Come and Rest"
July 19, 2015 (Pentecost 8)
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Flintstone UMC and Simpson UMC

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

I contemplated changing my sermon in light of what happened in our community of Chattanooga this past week on Thursday and the deep loss we feel as a community and a nation.  But as I continued to reflect and pray, I realized that this theme of coming away and resting, of becoming renewed, is crucial for us if we are going to respond rather than react to this particular situation.  Thus, for what has happened this past week, for every day of our journey, I invite us all to come and rest today.  May our ears, hearts, minds, and souls be attuned to the voice of God.

Let's look again at today's Scripture passage, starting with Mark 6:30-31: "30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat."

The disciples were admittedly tired and hungry.  They had been doing the work of the Lord.  Jesus knew their needs at that moment and invited them to "come away and rest".  Notice their response in verse 32: "32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves." 

Let's stop here for a moment.  The disciples could have responded: 'No thanks, Jesus, we still have a lot of work to do.  We're just going to keep pushing ahead until all the folks are healed, have heard about you, etc.'  But they didn't.  They must have known inside themselves that they DID need to rest.  They accepted the gentle teaching of the Lord and this gift of grace in the form of rest and they went away to a deserted place by themselves.  They had to let go of their work and ministry and accept the extended grace in order to even begin to rest.

That's a powerful thought, isn't it?  We are called to let go of the things that get in the way of our being able to "come and rest".  What kind of things do we need to let go?  For me it was letting go of this past week's homework assignment.  At the beginning of the semester, the professor offered us a "get out of jail free card" to use for any week during the summer term.  We could then be free to travel, be with family, whatever we needed to do for one week.  It meant we didn't need to participate in the week's discussions online by posting or responding.  To let go of the week's assignments, I had to accept the grace extended to me by the professor in the form of this "get out of jail free card".  I had to  "turn in" that card in order for the grace to be redeemed.  A gift is not worth much if it isn't opened and used.  It took me until Monday morning to realize this for myself and to live into it.  In the back of my head I knew the grace was there, but I thought I would just push through.  But Monday morning it struck me that there was no way I was going to read the book and stay on top of my studies and enter fully into the week of refreshment and renewal at SOULfeast.  Ironically, I knew I'd be preaching on "Come and Rest".  How could I preach on something that I wasn't living?!?!  I knew what I had to do and I turned in my "get out of jail free card".

Jesus invites us all to come and rest.  It is in this rest, this renewal that we are able to hear and know Jesus better.  In hearing and knowing Jesus better, we are better able to discern and to respond.  Our cups are filled and we serve out of that filled place. 

How often are we to respond to Jesus' invitation to "come and rest"?  Very often.  Daily.  Weekly.  Monthly.  Yearly.  Our Sabbath times of making time to rest and listen are crucial.

You may be familiar with this passage in Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to come and rest at any time we are weary or carrying heavy burdens. That could be a moment to moment timeline instead of what I already mentioned.

For me, SOULfeast this past week was indeed a time of rest and renewal.  The focus for the week was "Renew your people".  Each day the theme was centered around these parts of our baptismal vows: prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  The speaker (Elaine Heath) and the preacher (Jacob Armstrong) wove these into how we are to be renewed, as did the morning and afternoon sessions.  I won't take time now to share everything I learned this past week, but I will say that the combination of the speakers, the workshops, the trip to Asheville, NC to hear and see this vision of investing in a community and its renewal, plus joining in Holy Communion throughout the week and walking around Lake Junaluska.... all of this contributed to my renewal, my being able to listen.

Today's passage is just one of several in which we see Jesus and the disciples taking time apart to pray, be with a smaller group of disciples for prayer and teaching, spending time in solitude, etc.  As we look at Jesus' example, we understand the importance of coming away to rest, of taking time to refresh prior to making decisions and/or continued service to others.  (Luke 6:12-14 is one example)

Verses 33-34 in today's passage show us that the people really didn't give Jesus and his disciples a chance to rest this time.  That happens.  Sometimes our times of rest and renewal are put aside for a moment.  Here, Jesus had great compassion on the crowd that arrived ahead of them and began to teach them.  Jesus was mindful of their needs.

The lectionary passage skips the feeding of the crowd in verses 35-52.  The disciples engage in servant leadership, learn first-hand from Jesus about miracles and serving.  But that's a sermon for another day.  Then, when the time is right, they leave again and set off for the other side of the lake.   

They were going to get their time alone now, right?  Not really.  Read verses 53-56 again.  But, think for a minute.  They had their time in the boat, crossing over as alone time, just the disciples and Jesus.  They were there on the water, able to reflect upon the day's activities.  Sometimes it is a few minutes of rest and renewal that we get in our cars, standing in line waiting, sitting in the pews prior to the start of a service.  We can use these times to rest in the presence of God and allow our spirits to be renewed.

It is through these times of renewal that we can more clearly hear the voice of God over all the other "voices" and demands in our lives.  I picked up a book from the ottoman, one of the many books I look forward to reading now that required reading is almost over. :)  Sabbath:  Finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives by Wayne Muller.  The first line of the introduction sums up the problem we face: "In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm of work and rest." (1)  Muller goes on to say this: "All life requires a rhythm of rest.  There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body's need for sleep.  There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning.  There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter.  There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea.  In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs between the exhale and the inhale.  We have lost this essential rhythm.  Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something---anything---is better than doing nothing.  Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever growing expectations, we do not rest.  Because we do not rest, we lose our way.  We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor.  We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.  We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.  Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.  And for want of rest, our lives are in danger." (1)

Hear these words from Sarah Young in her devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  This is the devotion from July 17.  As you listen to these words, imagine Jesus speaking to you individually.

"Come away with Me for a while.  The world, with its nonstop demands, can be put on hold.  Most people put Me on hold, rationalizing that someday they will find time to focus on Me.  But the longer people push Me into the background of their lives, the harder it is for them to find Me.
You live among people who glorify busyness; they have made time a tyrant that controls their lives.  Even those who know Me as Savior tend to march to the tempo of the world.  They have bought into the illusion that more is always better: more meetings, more programs, more activity.
I have called you to follow Me on a solitary path, making time alone with Me your highest priority and deepest Joy.  It is a pathway largely unappreciated and often despised.  However, you have chosen the better thing, which will never be taken away from you.  Moreover, as you walk close to Me, I can bless others through you."

In closing, listen to the passage from Matthew 11:28-30 again, this time in contemporary language:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)

May it be so.  Amen.

A walk around the lake...

This past week I was at Lake Junaluska, NC for SOULfeast 2015.  It was a wonderful and restful retreat sponsored by The Upper Room with the theme: "Renew Your People".   I was able to engage in the sessions, in worship, and in the workshop times and allow myself to be renewed.

There is much I can write about this past week... Elaine Heath and Missional Wisdom Foundation, Jacob Armstrong, Missy Buchanan and "Growing bolder, not just older", after workshops I attended, the altars, the worship, the people I met and those with whom I reconnected, table fellowship, etc.

I haven't been able to process it all.  I spoke about it some in today's sermons at two of the churches to which I'm appointed.  I will hopefully have some time to process more in the near future.

For today, I will post one picture I took on my afternoon walk around Lake Junaluska.  It was during the afternoon Sabbath rest time that day.  I walked around the lake getting some exercise, but also taking notice of many things such as: dark, plump blackberries that were beyond my reach; young fruit on trees; a tree that had come uprooted and lay in the water; ducks that were resting on logs or docks; folks out on the lake in kayaks, canoes, or on paddle boards; and flowers, especially the roses along the infamous Rose Walk.

My one picture from all of the beauty that I saw?

This is what I posted along with this picture on July 15 (Wednesday):

"Once again, SOULfeast has refreshed my soul, filled my cup, given me many things to ponder, and has blessed me more than words can describe. I have "come home" for my 4th time for SOULfeast and have not been disappointed. It isn't over yet. Who knows what teachings, challenges, or blessings await tomorrow?"

On Thursday, July 16, the final day of SOULfeast, I received more teachings and more blessings.  But, on my way home from SOULfeast I began to hear the news out of Chattanooga, TN (my home).  The news that quickly put Chattanooga and Hixson (where I live) on the map was a shock to many.  It was a surreal situation.

I found myself relying on Matthew 11:28 with the heavy burdens on my heart and as I traveled home that day.  There were many blessings along the pilgrimage homeward as I stopped several times to be renewed and refreshed by the waters and to pray next to a cornfield.

Being renewed is an ongoing necessity in order to be able to respond rather than to react.

Living into this renewal takes intentionality, but it is worth the effort.

That walk around the lake on Wednesday afternoon allowed me to process what I had learned so far and allowed my body, spirit, and mind to rest prior to being assaulted by more learning and by life's difficulties that I could not foretell.

What activities have helped you prepare in advance for some future unknown event?  How have you sensed God's working in the events in your life to prepare you to more adequately deal with situations?

It may not be a 'walk around the lake' for you.  It could be any number of things.

May you make some time today to 'walk around the lake'.

Blessings on your journey,


Saturday, July 4, 2015

U2charist at St. Marks June 28, 2015

It is Saturday, July 4th.

I am just now able to sit down and write about last Sunday's worship experience at St. Marks Northshore where I worshiped last Sunday for their U2charist service. 

Though this wasn't my first time to worship at St. Marks, it was my first U2charist.  What a neat service.  If you'd like to know more about U2charist, you can check out the link here.

Last Sunday was the last Sunday opportunity for me to visit other churches before I officially take the pulpit tomorrow morning in the Holston GaP Parish in the Chattanooga District.  It has been a blessing these past three Sundays in June to visit other local churches and to worship with other communities.  I highly recommend it for all when you can.  I recommend mingling with other denominations too.  We are all the body of Christ and connected.  It's just that I only had three Sundays in which to visit because I stayed at my home church through the end of May.  One can only visit so many churches in three weeks.

Going to St. Marks was like going back to another one of my homes.  I went to their first service several years ago when they were starting out on their new adventure in the fellowship hall.  Everyone in attendance that day was invited to plant a seed and take it with them as part of that beginning.  I attended a few times off and on as I could over the years.  I have always been blessed by the worship, the fellowship, the spoken word, and the overall atmosphere.  This past Sunday was no exception.

From the worship bulletin: U2christ "features the music of the rock band U2 combined with a communion experience open to all.  Messages of global reconciliation and justice for the poor and oppressed are highlighted.  The U2charist seeks to call people to a deeper faith and engagement with God's mission within our parish, community and world."

St. Marks always has altars that are thematically appropriate to the message.  Sunday's altar contained the elements for communion, icons with pictures and articles relating to justice for the poor and the oppressed, and many candles.  The cross and a Bible were brought in during the opening time.  (The icons for this service were made by Heather Clements.  She designed the altar.)

The Scripture passage for the Epistle lesson was from Hebrews 10:11-25 (The Message) and the Gospel lesson: 1 John 4:7-10.

Carl Greene gave the sermon on Sunday.  St. Marks has a rotating staff of preachers and Carl was up.  Here are a few things I jotted down from his sermon-- Justice, Charity, and Equality are core components of our faith.  The vulnerable matter to God.  God will guide us and meet our needs as we work for justice.  Isaiah 58.

There were a total of 9 U2 songs in the service.  Each song sung provided a brief explanation of the meaning and/or origin to it.  It was educational and inspirational to learn.  Words were up on the screens for us to sing along.  Many of us did.  The music team did an excellent job in setting the scene for an engaging time of worship.

The Prayers of the People and the Great Thanksgiving Liturgy were also very meaningful portions of the service.  Different people from the congregation read the prayers and the congregation responded after each one, "Hear our prayer" (bringing back my Academy experiences of corporate prayers of the people to mind).   The prayers and the liturgy were so meaningful to me that I asked for a copy.

Here are the "Prayers of the People" prayed:

Almighty God, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have the grace to take up our cross and follow him in pursuit of your work of reconciliation in the world.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the poor, hungry, and neglected all over the world, that their cries for daily bread may inspire works of compassion and mercy among those to whom much has been given
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for schools and centers of learning throughout the world, for those who lack access to basic education, and for the light of knowledge to blossom and shine in the lives of all Gods people.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for an end to the divisions and inequalities that scar Gods creation, particularly the barriers to freedom faced by Gods children throughout the world because of gender; that all who have been formed in Gods image might have equality in pursuit of the blessings of creation.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the health of women, children and families around the world, especially for an end to maternal and child mortality, that in building healthy families, all Gods people may be empowered to strengthen their communities and repair the breaches which divide nations and peoples.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for an end to pandemic disease throughout the world, particularly the scourges of HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis; that plagues of death may no longer fuel poverty, destabilize nations, and inhibit reconciliation and restoration throughout the world.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for an end to the waste and desecration of Gods creation, for access to the fruits of creation to be shared equally among all people, and for communities and nations to find sustenance in the fruits of the earth and the water God has given us.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for all nations and people who already enjoy the abundance of creation and the blessings of prosperity, that their hearts may be lifted up to the needs of the poor and afflicted, and partnerships between rich and poor for the reconciliation of the world may flourish and grow.
God of love, in your mercy,

Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the departed, particularly those who have died as a result of poverty, hunger, disease, violence, or hardness of the human heart;
God of love, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
From the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving:

L: We Feast at the Lord's Table
Christ is risen!

P:He is risen indeed!

L: Let's celebrate this irrepressible life;
let's open our hearts to the joy and wonder of infinite possibility,
of unquenched hope, of eternal resurrection.

P: We celebrate, we raise our voices and our hearts in worship and thanksgiving to the God who lives.

L: Resurrection happened because Christ was first prepared to die.
Defying death, He refused to release His hold on life and love.
So now, as He encouraged us, we choose to remember
so that we too can truly live.
At supper on the night before He died
Jesus took bread and blessed it.
Then He broke it and gave it to His disciples saying:
This is my body, broken so that you may know life.
Eat it and remember Me.
After the meal Jesus took wine and blessed it.
Then He gave it to His disciples saying:
This is my blood, shed so that you may know life.
Drink it and remember Me.
So, now, Lord of Life, we share in this meal, we celebrate together,
and we remember You.
And we will continue to do this until resurrection
has flooded the whole creation.

We give you thanks that you have already poured your Holy Spirit out on these gifts of bread and wine to make them be the body and blood of Jesus for us.
And may we who share this meal, be joined with you,
and with one another,
as one body united in resurrection life,
and sharing with all of creation in your eternal salvation.

P: As we break this bread, we receive Christ's life
In all our diversity, in all our individuality,
as we share this one loaf
we are one.

Even the post-communion prayer caught my attention.  (I know, I'm geeky in this way.  Maybe this in part explains my calling?!?!)

Almighty and everliving God, we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom. And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

What a wonderful time of worship with the community gathered at St. Marks Northshore on June 28.  Thank you for opening your arms of welcome to me once again.  It was a blessing.  I not only reconnected with friends and folks that I haven't been able to see or worship with in a while, but I met some new folks.  In fact, I met one of my colleagues who will be starting tomorrow at a church in one of the communities I'm in.  

To the worship team, the tech team, the pastors, all those who work hard behind the scenes, to the members and the guests who were there last Sunday, thank you.  Thank you for setting the atmosphere for us to all come together to worship the Lord of Creation.

Well, it's time to end this post.  This ends the journey of visiting other churches prior to my taking the pulpit.  That starts tomorrow.  10am Fort Olgethorpe UMC and 11am Simpson UMC.  As Rafiki from the Lion King says, "it is time".

Blessings on your journey, 

Debra ☺