Friday, June 26, 2009

The journey...

In 1917, Emerald Jay and Mary Harris packed their few possessions and moved from Iowa to West Palm Beach, Florida. There were no paved roads, no air-conditioning in homes much less cars and real bandits were known to lurk in the bushes alongside of the dirt roads of Florida. The couple had one child, Ned and he was an infant.

About a year later, Ruth Elizabeth was born (July 1, 1918). Her 'baby brother' Dick was born five years later. Their father was a mailman and their mom eventually returned to teaching school. She had been a teacher in a one room schoolhouse in Iowa before the big move south.

Last week my wife and I had the opportunity to take her mom (Ruth Elizabeth - fondly known as 'Grandma') and Uncle Dick back home to West Palm Beach for a visit. It was the first time he had been in over 30 years and she had not been back in almost 15 years. The visit was bittersweet in the full expression of the term!

The two siblings sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation during our two day car trip 'home'. They were giddy and laughing and nervous. They joked and shared short vignettes about the early years. When we arrived to our small rented cottage they both hurried off to their rooms to sleep and give thanks that they had finally arrived for this special week which both had been planning and anticipating for months.

Monday morning my wife and I awoke to quiet laughter in the kitchen. Grandma and Dick were waiting patiently, but ready to get started on this grand adventure. Now 91 and 86 (respectively) they hopped in the car like two kids and both began to give names of streets or institutions they expected to see first.

At this point the trip turned to one of true astonishment. Like children visiting the Circus for the first time they began to chatter. 'Beth, can you believe all these condos? Where do all the people come from?' 'Dick, can you imagine what mom and dad would say if they could see this...? I bet Dad's mail route would be a lot shorter today.' 'Why do they need so many six-lane highways?' 'Did we live on O Street once or twice? You would think some of the houses would be saved...'

The first day was the longest. We drove up and down streets and avenues and with each turn we would hear the mixed sounds of amazement and dismay. 'They tore down the old home place, sis - we use to live right there and now it is a highrise.' 'Back in our day the tallest building was seven floors - I remember taking my first elevator ride in that place.' We tried to find schools and churches and parks and old corner markets. Over and over we could see the discouragement in their faces. Most of the places were long gone, replaced by something shiny and new, or empty lots being prepared for the next building.

One Wednesday morning we visited their 'home church'. It is now a mega church. Many old photos lined one hallway as reminder of a long forgotten past on which the current 'organization' is built. Uncle Dick was especially struck to hear that 'in these bad economic times we had to let our full time chef go...' He joked about that statement for the rest of our stay. His church in the north east might have 25 in attendance on a good Sunday and they are struggling to survive.

But a consistent theme running through our week long journey was the thread of faith in God that had been there for both these 'children' throughout their life long journey. They had faced many trials and both have suffered. While in reasonably good health, they were forced to acknowledge growing physical limitations. The heat - the bugs - the congestion of the big city - the loss of friends and relatives... Each of these issues and many more in their hearts weighed heavy by weeks end.

Yet faith in God for both Grandma and Uncle Dick has served as their foundation. It was a gift from their own parents long ago as they left Iowa for an unknown future. And it has been a constant for these two on their long and winding journey back 'home'. It was not what they expected. It was not what either one had imagined. It was disappointing in some ways. But as we visited graveyards and churches and sights on their spiritual as well as their physical pathways of long ago, there were moments of celebration that God had been there with them and for them all along the way.

I am blessed to be a witness to the faith of this older generation and I pray that as I grow into my last chapter of life journey I too will be found to be more trusting and faithful and filled with that same Spirit. (Happy Birthday, Grandma!)


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Destructive and Constructive Nesting

What is the difference between destructive and constructive nesting?

As I shared in my last post I recently found a rat under the hood of an old car on my property. To my chagrin a rat had almost destroyed every wire under the hood. I promptly disposed of the nest and the car. What a relief to have the nest of varmints out of my life!

Isn't it amazing how we look on God's creation. Obviously I am not a big fan of rats. However, in the greater scheme of things there must be a reason for these destructive, sneaky creators. I am just not aware of their purpose, nor all that interested in them. Like snakes, spiders and mosquitoes, I just don't like them. Therefore I felt no anxiety about destroying their nest...

However, this past weekend I borrowed a 'pressure washer' from my neighbor. My deck and porch were beginning to show signs of dirt and mildew. With all that power in my hand I was hooked. In no time at all I was removing all the built up grime and I felt great. The more I washed the more places I saw that needed to be cleaned.

I moved from the back screened-porch to the deck to the dog's pen, to the driveway and finally found my self all the way around the house to the front porch. I was so proud of all the dirt I was removing. I was feeling so much strength and productivity. I was truly king of the manor.

As I moved to the front porch I noticed a bird's nest on top of one of the beams. It had been there since last summer and was recently vacated by a bird and her little fledglings. They had finally flown away. So I tackled that corner of the porch with a vengeance.

I first tore as much of the nest away as possible by hand. Then I scraped away more dirt with a small tool. Then I turned the full force of the washer onto the soiled corner. All signs began to wash away. No more nest, no more dirt and no more birds around my front door.

But this week I have found myself missing that nest. You see the birds have used that nest at least four times to lay their eggs and hatch their chicks and feed them til they were strong enough to fly away on their own. I had actually become fond of them. Each morning as I left for work I would look up to see them and check their progress. Could I see any movement? Was the momma bird sitting on her eggs or was she off looking for food for her hatchlings? When the heads of the small chicks began to show, I would watch carefully to see if they were growing and/or about to fly away.

They had become a sign of God's larger plan and purpose. This nest had become a thing of beauty for me. And yet in my haste I had destroyed it.

What is the difference between destructive and constructive nesting? Several learnings from my recent encounter with nests comes to mind:
1. What I might consider destructive must be a part of God's plan. Every creature seems to have a place to settle and find physical comfort. A place to birth children and feed them and raise them to sufficient maturity for them to leave the nest.
2. Even varmints (my definition) are part of something larger than my understanding. Things I see as destructive and a menace were created and are some gift from God. I may never know what that plan is all about (in this life) but I might need to learn to trust more.
3. God can use part of my own life that seems to be hidden and dark and a menace, to teach me His ways. I have much to learn about His grace and mercy.
4. I too can be a creator of destruction. I can channel my power and cause pain to something that was causing no harm. I can exert my strength and 'clean' out the dwelling place of God's creators, even those that bring joy and are peaceful. I need to learn to be patient and careful as I use my strength and power.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Old Clunker

I live in the country. That means I have a place on my property for trash and at least one old junk car. The recent rains in our area have really been bringing out snakes and other varmints. Therefore I decided to try to clean up the old trash heap and get rid of an old car.

I invited a guy over and told him he could have the car if he would just get it off the property. He opened the hood and found some old rats nest and indications where the rats had been eating away at some of the hoses and belts. He also found a 4 foot long rat snake all curled up on top of the motor. But before he could get rid of it, the darn thing slithered away.

Way back in the late 60's my pastor preached a sermon entitled YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. In that moment I received a significant gift of grace. For the first time in my life I heard that I was o.k. - because of God's love. I didn't have to do anything to gain it and my laundry list of failures had been forgiven by His mercy. I felt incredibly free.

Richard Rohr talks about the first half of life being a time for building our containers. And the second half of life being a time to more naturally focus on the content of our lives.

About a year and a half ago I opened the hood on my life again. Low and behold I found some old rats nest and even a few snakes. I called a friend in Texas and shared my pain. I received another gift and reminder of God's continuing love and mercy for me. It was the content of my life that needed gracing this time around...

I was no longer focusing on building the container. In some ways I had arrived. I had title and statue and outwardly I was pretty successful. I had a wife and home and kids and grand kids. I was a pastor and I was even a Director at the Pastoral Institute in the Turner Ministry Resource Center.

When I received that gift from my friend that day, I wish I could say that all the rats and snakes in my life slithered away in that moment of mercy. But you know what? Every time I am willing to open the hood of this old clunker, and really focus on what is there... I continue to find new varmints lurking along with some of my old favorites. Some days this is hard to face, because I get scared and fearful and lonely and anxious. Titles and statue and age and successes don't matter on the inside, if I can't return to God's grace and accept it.

But I can't do that without prayer and meditation and reflection AND community.

Lord, I am thankful today for COMMUNITY - at home, at church, at work... and the other places of fellowship which You provide!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome to my world...

For several years I published a Gratitude Journal on Sunday morning. I would list five or six random items I was particularly thankful for from the previous week. I also added a brief prayer for the morning and the day ahead. While these personal ramblings were from my own reflections on my faith journey they were well received by many friends. Over time I have received encouragement to re-initiate these offering.

Recently I have been introduced to 'blogging' and have decided to give it another try. I hope to make some entry on a weekly basis, but at times there might be more or less...

My full time vocation allows me the opportunity to work with ministers and congregations. However, this blog will be focused on the common human journey we all follow through life: beginnings and endings, births and deaths, faith and doubt, hopes and fears and how God's grace, mercy and love impact our journey.

Thank you for dropping in from time to time. I invite your feedback and suggestions.


1. Family and friends
2. Physical health and emotional healing
3. Challenges and opportunities
4. Prayer and reflection
5. The gift of life!

Lord, I pray that I remember that You are the giver of life and as present as the very breath I breathe. Guide this new chapter. Use this time and energy for Your purpose in my own life and in the lives of persons who join me along the way. Through Christ I pray. AMEN