Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Charleston and what we know

I sat behind a table early one morning last week with another pastor’s wife registering other clergy spouses for an annual conference.

Someone begins telling us about the way our bishop had started the conference earlier that morning. I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Don’t you know what happened in Charleston last night?” she asked.

Like many of those in attendance at the conference, I didn’t know until I got there. We had gone to bed late after an ordination service and hadn’t seen the news the previous evening. When she told me, I sat stunned.

How could it happen to a sister church while in a prayer meeting?

I don’t know.

And in Charleston, the streets of which I have rambled and explored and longed to return to so many times. I couldn’t reconcile the horrific violence with the charm of this southern city.

No, I don’t know how it could happen, but I do know that thousands in attendance at our conference placed their offerings in a basket to help with the funeral costs in Charleston and sent a delegation to stand with those who are hurting.
I do know that we decided to love, not hate.

I do know that a man who stitched tents for a living once wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “ We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love” (I Corinthians 13:12-13 The Message).

There’s much I don’t know, but I do know that if we are to navigate these perilous times, we will have to love extravagantly. We will have to love with a love beyond our own.

We will have to be conduits for the love of God.



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One thing after another

I heard it drift out of a conversation as I passed by. “It’s just one thing after another.”

So true.

I turned to see the speaker. Tears coursed down her cheeks.

One after another.

I thought of Romans. “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character hope.”

But, sometimes, we just need to catch our breath.

So, God sends a day, an ordinary day, and makes it extraordinary.

It began as being a witness to the act that changes everything. She laid it all down, and arose changed, transformed, renewed, and any other descriptive you can think of that means she ain’t carrying that stuff around anymore. Eternal destiny confirmed.

Can you say joy?

And then we traveled to a place where our daughter does an internship. A garden of Eden-like place without the snake. A Greek revival house and an organic garden that stretches for acres.

Sunflowers ten feet tall reached for the sky.

Day lilies lined vegetable beds.

Garden paths meandered.

We meandered breathing in the beauty.

One thing after another melted in the hot Georgia sun.

We left, rolled down the windows of the car, and let the wind blow as cow pastures and horse farms and waving grass fields rolled by.

It is one thing after another. But we string together amazing days, view them side by side, and remember in the midst of heartache, or sickness, or finances crumbling, that there is more amazing out there. Even in the one thing after another days, we get glimpses of beauty.

We persevere.

That our character may be formed.

So we get to the hope.

One thing.

After another.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

One Ringing Bell Top Posts: What to do with an empty nest

I had a big response to this piece when it first ran a couple of years ago, which has made it one of my top posts. With graduations just ended, I thought it might be timely to run it again. This week, I'm on a Journey off the Map with a bunch of pre-schoolers. We're having a lot of fun, but this fall, I'll hopefully be back at the Catalyst Conference for another year of volunteering. I've updated the links, so be sure and check it out yourself.

I looked on the internet and didn’t find much when I googled “what to do with an empty nest.”

It all happened so quickly. They were here and then they weren't.

Cracked the shell, ate the worms, and took off.

I’ve heard tales of women who said, “Sure am glad the kids have moved out of the house.”

But I don’t get it. Not at all.

I’m watching a couple of fledgling cardinals now at the feeder. Mottled in appearance, part down, part feathers, they peck away; maybe unaware their mama still sits up in the trees nearby. She deserves an award to raise her brood in the yard stalked by that terror known as Mama Kitty.

I’m thankful for my kids’ independence, that they’re doing what they want to do, that one of them is months away from graduating university. And the other only a year behind.

I write devotions, and blog posts, and novels, and proposals, and screenplays, and synopses, and articles, and crazy stories about kittens, but I miss them. I miss my kids. And when I say that, I don’t mean I think they should move back to keep me company, or change the arc of their lives. I just mean I miss them. And the last one now gone for going on three years, and that feeling hasn’t changed.

I miss their opinions and their sideways looks. I miss their laughter. I miss talking with them, hearing what they think.

 So, this is what they mean by the empty nest.

The cardinals split the air, wings spread.

I keep writing.

I don’t know when the feeling of empty nest gives way to something else.

I don’t.

But I do know to look around and see where else I might be of service to another generation. And that’s why I’m volunteering at this year’s Catalyst Conference in Atlanta.

From their website: “Catalyst Atlanta is a powerful gathering of young leaders, a movement of influencers and world changers who love Jesus, see things differently, and feel a burden for our generation. We seek to learn, worship and create together with a momentous energy passionately pursuing God.” It’s my privilege to offer anything I have that might help them on that course, even if it means just showing them where the restrooms are.

In October, around 13,000 young leaders will gather at the Gwinnett Arena. If you’re there, look for me, I’ll be the oldest volunteer on the staff. But I don’t care. It gives me a chance to hang out with people who are going to be changing the course of history in the decades to come. It’s an opportunity to experience how God is moving and shaking in these generations sometimes called, X’s, Y’s, millennial’s, or new boomers. Whatever, you call them, they’re looking for God, and as best we can, we need to support them in that pursuit.

So, since the nest is empty, this Mama is taking to the air, too. I might be sitting in a tree nearby. And if your nest is empty, or even if it's not, come join me.

It’s gonna be good.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hard Words, but joy

I listened as she told me how it’d just been one thing after another. Not minor stuff, but heart searing, mind bending hardship.

All the while, I’m thinking about those words in James, the ones I’ve been going back to repeatedly.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance(James 1:2, 3).
Maybe you’ve got this all worked out, but these seem like some of the most difficult words in the Book to me― that when we are right in the cooking pot, we rejoice. All of us pray for deliverance in such circumstances, but how often do we stop to “consider it pure joy”?

I’m trying to be intentional about it right now, because that’s the only way it’s going to happen. We’re never going to feel like giving thanks when we’re dealing with overwhelming difficulty. And to that end, one thing I’m doing is begin my day in praise by singing this hymn. I’ve always liked it, but never considered it one of my favorites . . . until now. I’ve found that as I meditate on these words, they become a reality.

I’ve found particular power in these phrases, “Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, Fill us with the light of day!”

I told my friend about what I’ve been doing. It seems counter intuitive, almost wrong, to sing out just when your heart might be breaking. But I remember something I read recently that when you need hope, you give hope. When you need encouragement, you give encouragement. When you need joy, you give joy. And in singing, we give joy to our Creator, the giver of “immortal gladness.”

So, hard words today, but joy tomorrow.

Take a moment .

And sing.

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