Welcoming Wednesday: The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving

This is the day to share things! Today I’m thrilled to introduce or remind you of an upcoming free virtual conference and a new book release called “The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving.”

Caregivers, as they pour out physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength, are unsung heroes. But caregivers also need care. They need encouragement, inspiration, courage, comradery, and support.

On March 13, from 11am-1pm EST, the Boston Church and HOPE MA are sponsoring a free virtual workshop, The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving.

The workshop begins with a panel featuring Roger and Marcia Lamb, Jeanie Shaw, Sam Shaw, and Rich and Lisa Fischer as they share Scriptures, insights, and practical habits that helped them find God when at times he felt far. They will discuss ways they discovered anew God’s presence as they walked this sacred caregiving journey.

Breakout classes include: Caring for children who need special care taught by Frank and Rhoda Astone and Peggy Malutinok; Caring for parents and other adults with Rich and Lisa Fischer and Danielle Petruzzi;, caring for a spouse with Carl Christenson and Chantel Cornelly; Grief in caregiving with Roger and Marcia Lamb; care for the caregiver with Sam Shaw and Jeanie Shaw; resources in caregiving with Patrice Gattozzi, Anne Mere Slebodnick, and Maureen McCartney; and financial and legal matters with Guillermo Adame.

Spread the word to caregivers and their families, neighbors, friends, and anyone who wants to become more like Jesus as they care for others.

Register now:

https://zoom.us/…/tJAud-mpqDspEtHgxsDll69i0QroLREcDcfg

And—In conjunction, my brand-new release is now offered now at IPIbook.org, also entitled The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving. This book is a collection of vulnerable, inspirational, and informational stories by caregivers who have found God’s support amid their trials.

Preorder at: https://www.ipibooks.com/products/the-sacred-journey-finding-god-in-caregiving

 

 

Monday Musings – The Home of an Orphan and a Widow

Orphans and widows are oft mentioned throughout the pages of the Bible as God teaches about justice and compassion, revealing His heart of justice and mercy.  As I began to read the Scriptures (280 concerning widows and 105 on orphans), tears welled up in my eyes. As I read, God’s love and cause/plea for justice felt overwhelming, momentarily taking my breath away. I note that foreigners are also often included in these passages of scripture.

I think these scriptures especially garner my attention because it occurred to me—my home is the home of a widow and an orphan, one who is also a foreigner. I tend to discount this because our culture is different today than in biblical times, and many governments have some kinds of provisions. However, one thing is sure. Distress, such as is mentioned in James 1:27, is real. When Wyndham was living, we often spoke of the many ways that more distress accompanied orphans than simply having no parents. Even when/if orphans find adoptive parents or parents find them, distress runs deep and wide. I resist even writing the words orphan and widow, because they are uncomfortable words, especially when describing me and my beloved son.

How much my perspective on life and the ways I view it have changed since I began my quest in trying to understand the underworld of orphans and the effect their lot in life has on their sense of loss identity, rejection, shame, and control. I guess God felt I also needed to understand widowhood, so I am learning as best I can as I live this new way of life.  After learning much this year about deeply embedded racial injustice, justice and mercy have been especially on my heart. I have since been inquiring about ways to interact with refugees in my area, and as soon as the pandemic eases should have some new opportunities for this, which I know will teach me much. I feel growth coming on, which feels exciting and a little scary. I long to live as Micah instructs. Pray for me, as I pray for you.

  He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

What and Why Are You Learning?

Do you ever find that some questions people ask you cause you to dive deeper for the answers? It has been good to reflect on questions I have been asked about why I chose to enter and continue in graduate school while in my late sixties. So, as I think through my answers, it helps me once again to reflect on important questions about why I choose to do what I do. We can find it all too easy to just do, without reflecting clearly on why we do what we do or think what we think.

Why did you decide now, to go back to school?

Longing to continually grow deeper in my walk with God and service to others, I entered seminary in 2018, when I was sixty-four years old. I was drawn to the study of spiritual formation, deeply believing that too many Christians go through motions of religion while lacking the depth and joy flowing from intimacy with God. They long for more. I longed for more. I desired to learn further ways to grow toward the image of Christ and delight in our relationship. I love to learn, and though I had read and studied my Bible for decades, I thrilled to the deeper teachings I learned through my biblical studies classes. I savored and put into practice what I learned in my spiritual formation studies.

God answered many prayers encouraging me to pursue this venture. During my studies, I was working in the ministry and providing care for my wonderful husband, who passed from a progressive neurological disease called Multiple System Atrophy in November 2019. It was an extremely difficult time. My studies, combined with daily life and suffering, not only drew me into a more intimate relationship with God but also put on my heart a desire to keep learning. I thrive best when learning new things.

I believe I am called to teach. It feels good to know my calling…. what I feel uniquely qualified for and what makes my heart sing. For over forty years, as a women’s minister, I have taught the Bible to those wishing to develop faith or to grow in their faith, helping them apply biblical teachings and principles to their daily lives. I have taught workshops in areas of spiritual growth to audiences large and small, in-person and online. I also love to teach through writing. After my first book, I thought I was done with writing, but fifteen books later, God keeps putting more on my heart.

As an older woman who has experienced many transitions in life including a loving marriage of forty-five years to caretaking and then widowhood, raising children and now enjoying adult relationships with them, grandparenting eight grandchildren, adopting a teenager from Eastern Europe, changing jobs, moving, losing parents, being held at knife-point, and being struck by lightning, my experiences are many and allow me to relate to various ages and backgrounds. At this stage of my life, I still desire to help change the world for Christ through teaching, mentoring, and writing in various settings and places. I long to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God…but I still have so much to learn. I want to see more and more women learning and teaching, as they offer such a valuable perspective.

God answered so many specific prayers as I sought His guidance about this decision to go back to school. I want to keep on learning and then do some adjunct teaching when I finish my doctorate. I’ll be about seventy years young then.

Why did you choose to study spiritual formation? What is it? How did you benefit and how can what you have learned benefit others?

Spiritual formation is the process of God working in our lives to transform us into His image. We make ourselves ready and available through spiritual disciplines for God to transform us. We learn to find spiritual rhythms of life so that we can be still enough with God and hear him. We build intimacy with Him that refreshes, directs, and fills us in every way. We can often let busyness, ego, and the noise of life keep us from truly walking with God and finding rest for our souls. Spiritual formation is holistic. We let God transform us day by day through our love for Him and our unity with His Spirit. He changes us with ever-increasing glory through our thoughts and emotions, our relationships, our intellect, our life calling, our physical health, and our stewardship. That covers a lot of areas…our whole beings.

As I keep learning, I desire to offer workshops, teaching, training, and writing that encourages others to bring these areas to Jesus, letting Him transform them all. While I have learned some excellent tools and ways of thinking, I believe these are only useful if they help me and others draw closer to God for the sake of others.

 Have you enjoyed it?  Immensely. As I learn, write, and teach I feel the pleasure of God. I thrill to learn, to be closer to God, and to serve others more effectively. I have been blessed with outstanding professors, and even though I study online, my partnerships with fellow students have led to some wonderful new friendships. As I sat by Wyndham’s side during this time I have been in school, and since he could not talk I would tell him things I was learning and read him my papers, which he enjoyed. He was proud of me for this endeavor, which means so much to me. His encouragement spurred me on, and my studies during the hardest season of my life were strangely, a sort of lifeline for me.

 If you could summarize, what are the main things you took away?

It’s good to reflect on this question. The rate of learning is so fast that at times I felt like I was drinking from this.   I realize that as I learn, I must stop to reflect and apply what I am learning to my life, otherwise it is of little value. I also realize that knowledge is helpful, but only if it makes me more Christlike, more loving.  I definitely learned how much I don’t know and how judgmental I have been. The windows of my perspective are clearer, and I have let go of the fear of questioning. The Bible can stand up to questions. I am much more equipped to know and share my core biblical and life convictions and have also better learned the thought processes of those who share some differing core convictions. I have learned from so many people, and strive to treat them with respect and personal vulnerability. I have built some solid friendships with a few classmates and a professor who has enriched me. I have read more books than I can count, and have grown from each one. Next time, I’ll begin sharing some takeaways from each class. I pray that we are all forever learners.

 

Saturday Studies, Monday Musings, and Wednesday Welcomes

My blog will take on a new format, at least for a while. As often as possible, I plan to post personal thoughts on Mondays, share blogs, profiles, and writings of others on Wednesdays, and on Saturdays share things I have been learning.

My graduate studies over the last couple of years often felt like a drink from a fire hydrant. I recently reflected back on the classes I took and some of the books I read. I won’t bore you with some of the tomes of required reading, but today will share some of my favorite books from the past year and a half.  I simply love to read and to learn. Some books I listen to while in the car, some I read on Kindle, but most books I like to hold, underline, and dog-ear the pages in such a way that I can’t even sell them to a used bookstore. It doesn’t really matter, because I hate to part with books anyway. It’s just a thing. I so “get” Paul’s desire for his books.

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Tim 4:11-13)

I have an annoying (to me) habit of reading several books at the same time… on Audible, on Kindle, and with several always open on my coffee table. I’m not sure this is a good practice, but it happens.  If you have read some of these, I’d love to hear your favorites and what you gained from them. A few of these I have not finished, and three I wrote. 🙂 I put an asterisk by my favorites, though that was difficult. Also, I organized them under the categories of spiritual formation, personal and church growth, service, history, Bible study, suffering and heaven, women, next-generation, and writing. I find book recommendations super helpful, so feel free to send your recommendations along.

Whenever I am asked about what I have learned in my graduate studies and why I went back to school I sometimes haven’t known quite how to answer. So, in future Saturday posts, I plan to share (interview style) reasons I went back to school, and some takeaways from each of my classes. Summarizing the classes has been a helpful exercise for me, and hopefully, some of my takeaways will encourage you, too. I realize Saturday’s posts might not be your cup of tea, so if not, hopefully, some of the other days will be more encouraging for you.

Book Recommendations from 2020 and early 2021 by topics

Spiritual Formation

A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly

Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster

Discipline for the Inner Life by Bob and Michael Benson

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton

Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton

Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank Laubach

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer *

Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton *

Living God’s Word by Duvall and Hays

Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard

Prayer by Richard Foster

Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser *

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton

Satisfy Your Soul by Bruce Demarest *

Seasons of the Soul by Bruce Demarest

Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland Jr.

Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster *

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton *

The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard

The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes *

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

The Good and Beautiful Community by James Bryan Smith

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith *

The Kingdom Life by Dallas Willard, Keith Meyer, and others

The Kingdom of God vol 3 by Tom A. Jones

The River Within by Jeff Imbach

The Transforming Power of Prayer by James Houston

When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson *

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray *

Personal and Church Growth

40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole

A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

All the Feels by Elizabeth Thompson

Discipline for the Inner Life by Bob Benson Sr and Michael Benson

Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero *

Get Your Life Back by John Eldridge

God is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Krish Kandiah

God of the Towel by Jim McGuigan *

Holy Ambition: What it Takes to Make a Difference for God by Chip Ingram

Margins: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swensen *

Self to Lose—Self to Find: A biblical approach to 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil*

Spiritual Discipleship by Gordon Ferguson

The Call by Os Guinness *

The End of Me by Kyle Idleman *

The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

The God-Shaped Brain by Timothy Jennings

The Master Plan of Discipleship by Robert Coleman (I find this helpful every year)

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by Comer *

Think Like Jesus by George Barna

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

Wednesdays with Wyndham: Godly Wisdom for Everyday Life by Jeanie Shaw*

With by Skye Jethani *

Service

A Spirituality of Caregiving by Henri Nouwen

Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa *

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving by Jeanie Shaw and Friends*

 History

Markings by Hammarskjold

Becoming by Michelle Obama *

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace by Henry Knight

John Woolman’s Journal by Ernes Rhys

Reviving the Ancient Faith by Richard Hughes

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi *

The Life of Alexander Campbell by Douglas Foster

Bible Study

Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible by Manfred Brauch

“Bema Discipleship” Podcast by Marty Solomon *

Exploring our Hebraic Heritage by Marvin Wilson *

Jesus: King of Strangers: What the Bible Really Says about Immigration by Mark Hamilton

Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture by Scott Duvall

Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James *

Misreading Scripture Through Individualist Eyes by Richards and James

Origins by Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan (Kindle) *

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg *

Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann

Searching for a Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible by John Mark Hicks *

Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann

The Beast that Crouches at the Door by Rabbi David Fohrman

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter *

The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi by Robby Gallaty

The IVP Bible Background Commentary (good resource)

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

Suffering and Heaven

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

All Things New by John Eldridge *

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Majors

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey *

Preparing for Heaven by Gary Black

Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb *

The Problem with Pain by C.S. Lewis

The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving by Jeanie Shaw and Friends (coming soon) *

The Scars that Shaped Me by Vaneetha Risner

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Women (The are the most recent I’ve read, though I have a bookshelf and Kindle full of nearly a hundred books from my studies)

A Woman Called by Sara Barton *

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller

The Bible and Gender by ICOC teachers

The View from Paul’s Window: Paul’s Teachings on Women by Jeanie Shaw *

Women in God’s Mission by Mary Lederleitner

Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal by Carroll Osbourne

Women Serving God by John Mark Hicks *

Next Gen

Faith for Exiles by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock *

Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship by Holly Allen

Meet Generation Z by James Emery White

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

Writing

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Style Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams

More Good News

Happy New Year dear friends. It has been quite the year, but as I look back I find so many blessings from God. Also, thank you so much for your encouraging words concerning “Wednesdays with Wyndham,” including pictures you have sent of you while reading it. I have loved those. They have warmed my soul and lifted my spirits. Thank you! 

I’ll share more on future blogs, but today I want to share some more “literary” good news.

There are now three ways to get “Wednesdays with Wyndham.” It is now available on Kindle, as well as paperback. I also received a box of books so that I can sign them and then arrange a way to get them to you. Just let me know if you would like a signed copy mailed to you, or if you are local and want to arrange a way to pick one up.  I’ll include the links for the paperback and Kindle versions.

Also, for anyone willing, Amazon reviews are quite helpful for letting more people know about the book. In fact, books don’t get much outside attention until there are numerous reviews. I would truly appreciate any reviews you wish to offer, especially encouraging ones 😊. If you go to the book on Amazon, you can write a review. My prayer is that through this book, faith can be strengthened and ignited—and hearts encouraged and fed.  

Here are the links to both the paperback and Kindle versions. Happy reading! In a future blog, I will be sharing some of my favorite books from 2020 as well as a new blog series.  

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08PLBX4XL

Kindle:

 

 

Some Good News

Since it’s Wednesday, today seems the perfect day to officially release my new book, Wednesdays With Wyndham: Godly Wisdom for Everyday Life. I realize this is a different sort of posting today. I truly hate marketing and always feel weird talking about my new books, but I also realize there is no other way to get the word out except to talk or write about them. So, thank you for reading this and most of all, thank you for your continued encouragement for me in my writing. Putting books out there feels quite vulnerable, and your encouragement makes a difference. When I wrote my first book, Jacob’s Journey, it felt like birthing a child. I thought that would be my last book, but nineteen years and fourteen books later, here we are. God keeps putting words on my heart. I hope they encourage your faith you even a smidgen (a small amount)  of how they help me.

Though some of my previous Wednesday blogs are written as chapters in this new book, there is plenty of new material, including reflections and a prayer for each chapter. I am eager to share this book with neighbors and friends. Whether people knew Wyndham or not, I pray that this book offers everyone a warm, inviting, and upbuilding opportunity for spiritual growth.

Here is an excerpt from the foreword by Gordon Ferguson:

This short volume is simply the best devotional book I have ever read, hands down. It rises above whatever I would rank second by a fair margin. I think of sermons that have made a difference in my life with God and people, and what made them have that effect. They were those which enabled me to take away one application that changed me. In a similar way, each of Jeanie’s chapters has distilled gems of wisdom (about wisdom) into bite-sized chunks that leave you full in spite of their brevity….

I am excited with anticipation for you, the reader, as you begin reading what will be a life-altering experience. I need say no more. Just start reading.

Today, Wednesday, I am offering this book at a friends and family discount of $10. After Wednesday, the regular price of $12.97 will apply (still a good deal). You can find it on Amazon.com at:

https://www.amazon.com/Wednesdays-Wyndham-Godly-Wisdom-Everyday/dp/B08PLBX4XL/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Wednesdays+with+Wyndham&qid=1607469835&sr=8-1

I want as many as possible to know about the book, so if you are so inclined it always helps if you are willing to share the link on your social media page. Also, after you read it, nothing means more to an author than a kind review. 😊

If you are looking for more reading, in October, I released a book through Illumination Publishers called The View from Paul’s Window: Paul’s Teachings on Women. These two books are completely different in style and genre. This one was the result of a three-year study. I encourage you to read it. Gordon posted about it last week, and I will include his vulnerable and kind words here.

Several years ago, Jeanie Shaw sent out an early draft of this book to me and a number of other teachers, asking for our honest input. What she had written so rattled the cage of my traditions that my response to her was very negative in both content and tone. In fact, I thought it might damage our relationship in spite of how long and close it had been. But she simply practiced what she had written about in the book. She did not cower down in the face of male aggression, but spiritually and respectfully continued to make her points and ask probing questions of me. When God helped me get my emotions in check and start engaging my brain, Jeanie helped me discover my systemic chauvinism and genderism as I began to dig more deeply into important issues of biblical interpretation. As a result, I discovered truths I had been missing and wrote a couple of articles on the topic myself, which can be found on my teaching website.

Many of the most respected teachers in our family of churches have been highly commendatory of Jeanie’s book. Among them are Tom Jones, Douglas Jacoby, Steve Staten, Michael Burns, Steve Kinnard, Ed and Deb Anton, Kay McKean, James Becknell, Tammy Fleming, and a number of other well-known leaders. Steve Kinnard, one of my favorite teachers, wrote the excellent Foreword to the book. I think it is a must-read for all disciples, male and female. After my wife Theresa read my first article on the topic, she wanted to know what to read next. Giving her the manuscript of Jeanie’s book was a no-brainer. While it is not as long (and complicated) as some books on the topic, it gets right to the heart of the issues in a very readable and understandable way. Her approach is a breath of fresh air in the world of academia where treatments of difficult topics tend strongly toward being rather difficult to read and often unnecessarily complicated. I highly commend both Jeanie and her writing on this important subject. Please read it – soon!

https://www.ipibooks.com/products/the-view-from-pauls-window-pauls-teaching-on-women

I pray you are able to take some time to rest (and read) over the next few weeks and to be still with God. Thank you for stopping by the “My Morning Cup” (jeaniesjourneys.com) site. I send you my love and appreciation.

Mark it Down

This past Saturday marked one year since my amazing husband died. I wondered how the day would feel. Would I celebrate his one-year heavenly birthday, mourn his loss, look at pictures, relive the horrible day, all of the above, or something else altogether? While we commemorate certain holidays, many life transitions (both the encouraging and the oh-so-hard ones) often pass by us unmarked. Un-commemorated. Unconfronted. I believe this often makes transitions more difficult to pass through, leaving us emotionally stuck.

I note in the Bible how often transitions, big and small, were commemorated. Stones of remembrance were stacked. Feasts were held. Garments were torn. Bread was broken. Altars were built. I find it helpful to mark transitions rather than just letting them slide by. It helps me, although I realize that people have different ways of processing transitions. This is not a “one size fits all” thought process.

I knew I did not want to simply dread this one-year anniversary so in preparation, I talked with God about what might be most helpful. Perhaps the Spirit put some thoughts in my head, but by whatever means they arrived, they were helpful. Saturday was deeply meaningful and special.

I considered that as a family it might help us to “mark” the day. So, on Saturday we each took several hours for a spiritual retreat. We went out in nature, Wyndham’s favorite place to be on this side of heaven. God blessed the day with unseasonably warm, gorgeous weather. One of us went to a riverside, another to the cleft in a rock at the reservoir, and several others to the ocean. I went to our special beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a place where we had spent many Mondays walking, praying, talking, dreaming, and planning. It felt more inspiring than sad to be there. As I felt the sun warming my face and the waves gently sliding over the sand I sang, listened to spiritual music, read, journaled, prayed, and listened to learn. We all began our times with an intent to still our hearts–to breathe in as we invited the Spirit to fill our hearts and breathe out the distractions and anxieties. It is truly hard to be so still of heart that we can hear God well. At least it is for me. As we each “retreated,” we reflected and journaled some of the following questions:

  • What do you most remember Papa saying to you that you carry with you? What do you think he would most want to say to you today?
  • What do you think God would want to say to you today?
  • What is at least one way this very hard year has most helped you grow spiritually?
  • What is a scripture or song that has helped sustain you this past year?
  • What are your best memories from this year?
  • What are you most grateful to God for as you think through His work in your life this year?
  • What are a few of your favorite thoughts/hopes about heaven?

This was a helpful, meaningful exercise for me, and for each of us. We also commemorated November 21 as our first annual “Pay it Forward for Papa Day.” In honor of him, we would each decide to do some special good deeds in honor of him. This was fun, meaningful, and fitting.

We ended the night with a several-hour Zoom call where we each shared the meaningful highlights from the day. It was honest, vulnerable, full of laughter, and full of tears. I treasure that time.

I also took a few pictures of my time at the beach. I captured a father and child frolicking hand in hand, sharing pure joy. I felt grateful to have a Father who takes my hand. I accompanied this view with the song “Precious Lord, take my hand…lead me on, let me stand….Through the storms, through the night, lead me on to the light…precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.” Not sure if the lyrics are correct, but they work for me.

I then saw kayakers set out through the sparkling water to a destination I couldn’t see. This scene reminded me of my new journey…one in which I must trust God because I don’t know exactly where it will take me.

I then noted a young couple who walked toward the water and ever so calmly and gently glided their swimsuit-clad bodies into the ocean without even a second’s hesitation. They walked in as if the ocean was bathwater and floated neck-deep in the frigid 51-degree water. (Yes, I Googled the temperature.) After about ten minutes of their stillness in the water, I lost track of my prayers and tried to remember my college life-saving class techniques just in case I would need to retrieve hypothermic floaters. Fortunately, they calmly and slowly walked back to shore and dabbed themselves with towels. As I had watched them walk into the frigid water without hesitation I thought of the song “Oceans,” and the lyrics spoke to me. Can I walk out that calmly or would I be wailing and screaming with the discomfort?

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.

Though it has been an inexpressibly hard year, perhaps it has been a year where I have grown most. One step at a time. God has greatly blessed me beyond what words can convey. I am deeply grateful. I pray you will have a meaningful Thanksgiving as you count your blessings. 

 

 

The Last Word

While “the last word” can describe a pushy eagerness to be the first and last to express an opinion, it can also be a message for another’s good, to communicate love. Sadly, the first example can be heard around us everywhere, physically and virtually.

Wyndham’s last words to me were “I love you.” Certainly, there were details of life we talked about earlier, but his last words expressed the heart of our relationship. These words are what mattered the most, to him and to me. I treasure those words. He used them daily when he could talk, but he had not been able to talk for months. So, when he somehow got these words out before he died, they were even more precious to me. While I remember so many details about his wisdom and passion for God…I remember these words the most. I carry our relationship of love with me always. His last gift to me was a diamond necklace, which he entrusted Sam to purchase. Even though he knew I am not a “jewelry person,” he wanted this remembrance so I would keep him close to my heart. And he is, always, close to my heart.

According to Jesus’ last words, He wants us to remember He loves us and will be with His sons and daughters. The fact that God’s first and last words were a blessing shows me once again the depth of His love. This moves and touches my heart.

What were Jesus’ last words? I had often thought His last words were the great commission, found in Matthew 28:18-20. But those were not His last words. His last recorded words were in the form of a blessing as He ascended to heaven.

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
(Luke 24:50-53)

Luke expounds on Jesus’ ascension in Acts as he quotes Jesus saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Was this the blessing Luke recorded? We don’t know. Jewish blessings usually invoke a gift or token of love, which the gift of His Spirit certainly is.

While we don’t know the exact words of the blessing as Jesus ascended, we know He raised His hands and blessed His disciples. We understand that they knew that He would somehow be with them through His Holy Spirit, though they did not yet understand how. And we know that they left His ascension rejoicing and praising God. That’s how God’s love affects us when we understand it.

Interestingly, the first recorded words from God to humankind were a blessing (Gen 1:22) and the last words from Jesus to humankind were a blessing. Learning from Jesus, I want my first and last words to communicate love. Because He loves, I can give love. I want my words to be a blessing to others. To communicate love.

This causes me to ask myself: What are my first words to others when I see them or greet them? What do they communicate?

What are my last words? What do they communicate?

Remembering that Jesus loves me and is with me brings me great comfort. His love allows me to show love to others.

A Jewish blessing is found in Numbers 6, describing God’s heart toward His people.

GOD spoke to Moses:

“Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them,
GOD bless you and keep you,
GOD smile on you and gift you,
GOD look you full in the face and make you prosper. (Numbers 6:22-26 MSG)

I love this blessing. I love the thought of God blessing me and keeping me. I thrill that He would smile on me and gift me, looking me full in the face. Amazing. God’s love touches my heart and gives me great joy. This blessing has been put to song, which has become a great encouragement to me. I pray as you listen, this encourages you as you remember God’s heart toward you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ55mDL7dA0

A Love-Hate Thing

I love “Papa’s bench,” the memorial bench I purchased that was placed at the reservoir five minutes from my house. I often walk and pray around the two-mile perimeter surrounding the lake while Denver frolics and fetches sticks from the water. I chose a bench because I wanted a place to “sit with” Wyndham. I didn’t want a cemetery; I wanted a nearby place with nature’s beauty and fishable water.

The bench went into the ground while I was visiting Kristen in Connecticut. The town employee, who has been extremely kind and thoughtful throughout the process, called to tell me it was in the ground. Hearing that I was away, he put tape across the bench so I could cut the tape and also so that no one would sit there before I did. See what I mean? He is thoughtful.

I arrived back in town the next evening right before dark. I was tired and hot after my drive home. I grabbed some scissors to cut the tape and walked down to the bench that I told you I love. I cut the tape away, sat down, and cried. Ugly cried. I talked out loud, some to God and some to Wyndham. I told God I hated the bench. I never wanted a memory bench. I wanted Wyndham. I loved it, and I hated it. All mashed up together. After a good cry and talk, I settled down on the bench. The reservoir was low, emptier that I had seen it in a long time. No wonder my town has a water ban in effect. Also, the sweltering heat from the previous few days encouraged grass to grow in the water, and I didn’t like how it looked. I didn’t like much that evening, as is likely obvious by now.

In the quiet evening, as I sat still, I began to hear what sounded like a waterfall. As I looked up, I saw water gushing into the lake. I told God…”Okay, I get it.” You see— I felt just like the low, way too empty reservoir…with ugly weeds growing to add insult to injury. And yet, God reminded me that He makes a reservoir possible by being the stream of living water. He will fill my empty reservoir—not with a slight trickling of water drops, but with a forceful gush of living water sent by His Spirit. (As I attached this picture of the outpouring water, I noticed the reflection of the shape of a cross with power lines attached. Oh ,the allegory here…God really wants me to get this message.)

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
(Jn 7:37-39)

(Interestingly, and adding even more depth to this amazing promise from Jesus, is that Jesus said this on the last day of the Feast of Sukkot, which included a water ceremony and chanted prayers pleading for rains for the harvest. Jesus was ushering in a new way of thinking.)

I must remember this new way of thinking, remembering that He continually pours love into my heart through His Spirit (Rom 5:5), like that water gushing from the source.

Somehow, my town knows when to turn on the water flow when the reservoir is low.  How much more does my God know when I need a fill-up? If my reservoir isn’t full, this also affects other people, not just me.

I’m happy to have a bench that I love and hate. I need physical reminders of memories. I think that is why there are so many celebrations recorded in the Bible, so many parables told, and stones of remembrances collected. We all need reminders.

Oh, and another little reminder from God to share. Later, I think it was the next morning, I was speaking with God about how difficult it can sometimes be to feel His presence. After all, I had talked with, lived, with, touched, and talked with Wyndham for forty-five years and now I have memories. With God, I have talked with Him for years and have His Spirit and His Word, but I have never seen Him or physically touched Him. That’s hard, and I think is why Jesus says “blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.” (Jn 20:29)  I told Him it is also hard to not know what it means to be in the spiritual state after death, and though I know Wyndham is with God, I felt a need for reassurance that all was okay. I asked Him if He could please let me know this somehow. I didn’t need to understand it, I just needed to know all was okay. This is all I said, as I did not really even know what I was asking.

After I prayed, I got up, picked up my phone, and had a message waiting from a sister in another region, Kathleen Johnson. This was her message to me. “Jeanie, in my quiet time I thought of you. As I was praying to God I had such a strong feeling that God wanted me to pass on to you that everything is all right..”

If that is not the Spirit at work, I don’t know what is. Of course, I cried in gratitude.

And now, every time I sit on the bench that I love and hate, I not only remember Wyndham, but am reminded that Jesus is my stream of living water…and Wyndham is more than all right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Were You There? A deeper look into an African American Spiritual

Were you there?

A moving African American spiritual. A daunting question.

The questions this song asks give me pause. Each verse asks if I was there when they crucified my Lord; when they nailed Him to the cross; when they pierced Him in the side; and when the sun refused to shine. These questions are followed by the phrase, “sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”

This popular spiritual has its roots in the communal slave experience, appearing in 1899 in William E. Barton’s Old Plantation Songs. The lyrics stem from the deep love and appreciation for the cross, common to the African-American slave community.

As I read or sing these lyrics I realize that of course, I wasn’t there, but this is not the point of the questions. The questions are asked so that I can go there in my heart and mind, remembering the sacrifice Jesus gave for me and consider my response to that sacrifice by the way I live today.

These questions function as an anomnesis, which from the Greek means “to remember.” Author David Bjorlin writes, “It calls the community to re-member the past to the present, to bring these historic events to bear on the now and make them part of our story…to bring the past events of Christ’s suffering and death into the present and transform us in its light.”[1]

Author James Cone, in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, tells of the centrality of the cross to the African-American community. This song, penned in days of slavery, takes on an even deeper meaning for the African-American community as it remembers the slave experience at the root. Cone writes, “In the mystery of God’s revelation, black Christians believed that just knowing that Jesus went through an experience of suffering in a manner similar to theirs gave them faith that God was with them, even in suffering on lynching trees, just as God was present with Jesus in suffering on the cross.” This allowed them to have hope in Jesus’ promise that he would be with them because of his resurrection power.[2]

As I write these words, I pause to let them sink in a bit. They are hard to write.

Were you there?

If I put myself there with Jesus, it changes my world view and the way I live each day. This is how I strive to live, though I too often fall short. Also, If I try to put myself there, in the roots of this hymn, it can change my perspective toward others.

In the memoir of African-American pastor and civil rights leader Howard Thurman entitled, With Head and Heart, Thurman recounts his meeting in India with Mahatma Gandhi. Before he and his wife left, Gandhi asked them to sing this hymn to him. Gandhi noted, “I feel this song gets to the root of the experience of the entire human race under the spread of the healing wings of suffering.”[3]

In the horrific video of the murder of George Floyd, the image of the three officers standing by while Floyd cries “I can’t breathe” haunts my soul. They were there. And they did nothing to stop it.

I pause to ask. What if I was there? Would I have done everything in my power to stop it? I’d like to think so, but since I have not done everything I can to stop racism….it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble. And repent.

I think all the way back to times when I was a young girl and saw bathrooms labeled “colored” and “white” and walked quietly into my privileged restroom without a word. Why, when in high school during desegregation and I was caught in an ensuing riot did I worry much more about my own safety than ever seeking to understand the pain that my new fellow students felt by having their neighborhood school, teachers, and all they had known close their doors, to never reopen again?

Immaturity perhaps. But immaturity indoctrinated in a root system of inequality, injustice, and white privilege. I think I must tremble some more.

Before leaving Ghandhi’s tent, Thurman asked him what he thought was the greatest barrier in India to the spread of Christianity. Gandhi answered, “Christianity as it is practiced, as it has been identified with Western Culture, with Western civilization and colonialism.”[4]

Let that one sink in.

Thankfully, a final verse has since been added to the song. It asks, “Were you there when He rose up from the grave?”

How thankful I am for this verse, as Jesus provides the only true source and direction for love and unity. In The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cones emphasize the victory in the cross as he declares, “while the lynching tree symbolized white power and ‘black death,’ the cross symbolized divine power and ‘black life’—God overcoming the power of sin and death.[5]

Though I haven’t experienced African American history, I, for one, plan to “go there” to better understand the history of systemic racism and ways this shameful past still affects my present. It will likely involve some more trembling and some speaking up.

Thanks be to God there is a way out of the power of sin through Jesus’ willingness to “go there” for me. He went there. All the way to the cross. He was there, giving His life.

I wasn’t there when He rose up from the grave, but because He did, He can now be here with us. Because of this, I can be transformed more into His image each day, holding to the hope He brings. He provides the hope for change. Desperately needed hope.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being                    transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord,           who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17-18)

I invite you to listen to the Three Mo’ Tenors’ rendition of “Were You There?” Perhaps it will touch your heart just a little deeper.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhGYD1svTM4

[1] David Bjorlin, “History of Hymns: Were You There?” Discipleship Ministries: United Methodist Church, Vol 17, March 2016.

[2] James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011), 21-22.

[3] Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart:: The Autobiography of Howard  Thurman (NY: Harvest; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1979), 134.

[4] Thurman, 135.

[5] Cone, 18.