“Different Measurements Every Time”

•September 24, 2021 • Leave a Comment

All of us likely have a bit of trouble sleeping these days.  If we watch the news, catch up on social media, or even check our email before we go to bed, it can make a difference in how we sleep.  

Sometimes when I sleep, I can solve problems I have been wrestling with.  In the morning, I will have a solution which has been evading me for sometime.  However, that is not how it happens every night.  Most nights there are these weird combinations of strange people, situations, timelines, geographies grouped together in such ways that they do not make any sense at all. 

Sometimes I am able to remember them, even if I would prefer not to remember them.  Because occasionally they are, quite frankly, disturbing and even terrifying.  Often there are people who have long since passed from this life.  Frequently there are people together who would not likely meet in this life.  

Like many preachers, I often dream of missing a time when I am supposed to preach at a church.  In the dream I don’t know where the church is, haven’t prepared a sermon, don’t even have a Bible, and usually am either not clothed or inappropriately clothed.  It’s not a pretty sight.  

In my dreams, I have been lost, then find the right place, get lost again, wander around quite a bit, perhaps finding the right place, and perhaps not.  (In fairness, this can also happen when I am awake.)

So, recently I had a dream that Jeni and I were remodeling a home, which did not somehow bear any resemblance to our home.  We decided that the front door needed replacing.  So, in the dream, we removed the door and jamb, and then began measuring for the new door installation.  We measured it carefully, and wrote down the measurements. Then, to just make doubly sure that we would get the correct size door and jamb, we measured it again.  This time the measurements were incredibly different.  So we measured a third, fourth, fifth, sixth time, perhaps even more.  Every time the measurements were different.  Every time.

Right now reality is like that for all of us.  Everything changes.  Often.  Without warning.  And the next day, it is all repeated again, except with different results.  

To keep myself sane, I have had to focus less on understanding the reality in which we live, and instead focus on what I can do to make things better.  I can’t solve COVID, but I can wear a mask.  I can’t cure climate warming, but I can drive less.  I can pick up litter which has blown into the yard, and even in other yards.  I can fix things which need to be repaired.  I can listen to peaceful music, or at least music which feeds my spirit.  I can pray for my family and my friends and the folks in my church.  I can read lovely books.  I can laugh at jokes.  I can post positive and affirming things on social media.  I can smile at the clerks in the stores.  I can say “Thank you” several times a day to others.  I can say “thank you” to God.  I can breathe in and out. I can love this world and this life, and be grateful for all that is.  

And I suppose, if I ever find this mythical dream state house, I could measure the doorway again. 

Peace Be With You.  – Paul

 A meaningless life

•September 23, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Today’s devotional is also from www.goodreads.com, and is a quote from Mitch Albom.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life.

They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important.

This is because they’re chasing the wrong things.

The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” ―Mitch Albom,Tuesdays with Morrie

Peace Be With You. – Paul

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.”

•September 22, 2021 • Leave a Comment

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” ―Lao Tzu,Tao Te Ching

This quote is from www.goodreads.com.

Peace Be With You. – Paul

Music taps into our very souls sometimes

•September 21, 2021 • 1 Comment

Music taps into our very souls sometimes.  We will listen to a hymn and a recollection will rush into our mind of a place far away from here in both space and time.  We can see the place, hear the music, sit beside the people who are recalled in that moment.  

At other times, music will move our spirits in such a way that we cannot possibly speak.  Maybe we are overwhelmed by the imagery or the beauty of the words.  All we know is that it taps into our very self in a way that we cannot express.  

This past Sunday, we used a video which contained pictures of many of our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and pets.  It was lovely, and I knew what it contained because I had prepared it from everyone’s pictures.  As I edited it, I thought of all the families represented in this video.  I thought of all the joy represented in those photos and videos. 

As I sat in the worship, thinking about what was coming, it must have overwhelmed me in some way.  All of a sudden, we were singing a hymn, and I felt some very extreme feelings from the words of the hymn.  My eyes filled with tears, and I was choking up.  The hymn was “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service.”  I have put the words below, and bolded the verse which choked me up.  

Lord, whose love through humble service 

Bore the weight of human need, 
Who upon the cross, forsaken, 

Offered mercy’s perfect deed: 
We, your servants, bring the worship 

Not of voice alone, but heart, 
Consecrating to Your purpose 

Ev’ry gift that you impart. 

Still your children wander homeless; 

Still the hungry cry for bread; 
Still the captives long for freedom; 

Still in grief we mourn our dead. 
As, O Lord, your deep compassion 

Healed the sick and freed the soul, 
Use the love your Spirit kindles 

Still to save and make us whole. 

As we worship, grant us vision, 

Till your love’s revealing light 

In its height and depth and greatness, 

Dawns upon our quickened sight, 

Making known the needs and burdens 

Your compassion bids us bear, 

Stirring us to tireless striving, 

Your abundant life to share. 

Called by worship to your service, 

Forth in your dear name we go, 

To the child, the youth, the aged, 

Love in living deeds to show; 

Hope and health, goodwill and comfort, 

Counsel, aid, and peace we give, 

That your servants, Lord, in freedom 

May your mercy know and live. 

It was just a flash in my mind, and in hearing and singing the words that I thought of the children in the video, of our homeless friend Stephen who was sitting in the back of the sanctuary with us, of immigrants on the US / Mexico border who are packed into immigration camps because of their desire for a better life for their family.  I thought of the Annual Conference Memorial Service which would be held in a few hours.  All of that hurtled through my mind in just a moment, and I was overcome.  

All I could think was “I have to speak in a moment!  I need to get this under control a bit!”  Yet it seemed like such an important moment that I needed to be in it for just a bit.  So I let the feelings just wash over me in a way, and I just waited. 

When it was time to speak, I was able to do so.  But I felt like something had changed, had shifted, in my mind.  I have to tell you that my sermon was kind of a blur to me, because I kept thinking, even as I was preaching, about this experience.  I knew that I could not say anything then, because I wasn’t even sure I had the words.  

I’m not even sure now.  I just know that something changed for me.  And I am grateful.  I am thankful for people like an unknown-to-me person named Albert F. Bayly, who wrote this song in 1961.  I am grateful to Frank for choosing it for worship.  I am thankful for all the photos and videos of beloved children.  I am thankful for the moment.  

If you have had an experience like this, please feel free to share it – with me, with someone.  Moments of great grace like this can feed many a person.  

Peace be with you. – Paul

Devotional – September 20, 2021

•September 20, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Another peaceful prayer from Jessica Kantrowitz, author of the book “365 Days of Peace,”one of my favorite poets.   

Peace with your anxious thoughts

peace with your own warm body

peace with the choices you made today

peace with the tomorrow you’ll wake to

peace with the night in between

peace with the dear dark night

peace with its stillness

peace with its unknowing

peace & rest to you tonight

Peace be with you.  – Paul

My congregation and Palo Duro

•December 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

IMG_2135My congregation, Mayfair Heights United Methodist Church, has a long and close relationship with Palo Duro Apartments.  Palo Duro 1 is a permanent, supportive living center for single, homeless adults with a mental illness (quote from their website).  They are a part of Neighborhood Services Organization, also an organization with which my congregation and many other United Methodist Churches, have a close relationship.  They are primarily funded by the United Way of Central Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Housing Authority.  

This past Sunday, my congregation held both a birthday party and a Christmas party for the residents of this complex.  It was my first time there, and I was struck by the incredible camaraderie between my congregation and the residents.  They know each other well.

Three things struck my heart during this party.  The first is that I was told by one of my congregants about two residents from that complex who died recently.  The two were very close friends and there was a picture of the two of them on the wall.  My congregant told me of these two folks and how long they had known them.  They grieved again for these friends who have died.  

The second:  The residents of this complex genuinely care for one another.  They looked out for each other as the gifts were handed out.  My congregation made sure everyone had a gift from the list they had filled out.  When some of the residents were having trouble getting to the party, someone volunteered to take their gifts to them.  My congregants also went to see some of the folks who were not able to come down to the party.  

The third:  When we were leaving, a resident of the adjacent complex, who was kind enough to help us bring all the gifts in, asked me if I would, when I came the next time, to have a blessing over his apartment.  I assured him that I would.  He said, “You gotta love a church who will do all this.”  

The other thing you might want to know about my congregation is that we are about 25 people.  We are older than we think we are, and we are incredibly mission minded.  

I’m very proud of them for being who they are, and I am grateful to serve as their pastor.  Sometime when you wonder who is helping those folks who are in need of a bit of assistance, remember my church. Because they are likely to be there already.  Peace be with you and yours. 

My church’s website is www.mayfairheightsumc.org

If you are interested in helping the residents of Palo Duro, here is a link to their website. http://nsookc.org/services/permanenthousing/

 

Aging Parents and Lent

•March 10, 2019 • 5 Comments

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During this holy season of Lent, I am with my folks as they are in separate hospital rooms.

My folks have been married since 1981.  They have had a lot of fun over the years, as they have danced together, traveled together, and grown old together.

My stepmom is now 90.  She has been my mom longer than my mom was able to be my mom.  She has congestive heart failure, and has been in the hospital repeatedly over the past year.  The routine is the same.  She has difficulty breathing, goes to the hospital.  Takes lots of fluid medicine.  Gets better.  Goes home.  A few weeks later, she is back in.  She’s kind of tired of living, especially since she has always been a person who works hard, enjoys life, and has fun when she can.  Now that she can’t do those things, it is frustrating for her.  

And Dad.  Dad is now 95.  He also has congestive heart failure.  In addition, he has what appears to be a slow acting form of leukemia, along with anemia, possible prostate cancer.  And for the past few days he has had a catheter along with him as his friend.  It does not slow him down.  Having been an independent spirit all his life, he continues that spirit even when the hospital would like for him to conform to their rules, especially with respect to his safety.  

He has always been this way.  Living life on the edge of safety.  Putting up high scaffolds to stand on so that we can work on guttering.  And then when I dismantle it, I find that we have been standing on a wooden structure that is secured to the front porch railing with two large zip ties.  

In the hospital, he, along with many others, has an alarm on the bed that will alert the staff if a patient gets up in an unauthorized fashion.  Our dad pushes the limits of this unauthorizedness.  We had left for just a bit.  Bed alarm was set.  Rails were up on the sides.  When we came back, Dad was in a different room.  Close to the nurses’ station.  Apparently he needed to use the restroom.  So he was almost over the rails when the nurses got there, responding to the bed alarm.  Therefore the room change.  

My spouse says that our Dad is probably not going to die like any other 95 year old man.  I think she is right.  When you are a rule breaker, live life on the edge, and have little use for what you might consider to be useless regulations, then you are going to live life on your own terms!  And he does.  

Life has become more difficult for them over the past several years.  Between the diseases of the body and the mind, along with the accompanying pain and worry, their words have become less filtered, their actions less restrained.  They have both lived much longer than they ever anticipated.  They are both ready to go home, but their bodies have not let them go yet. And their minds are still wrestling with the concept that if they let this life go, what would happen to the other person.  It is a hard place they are in.  And it is hard as their family to see them in this place.  There will be a time when either the decision is made for them as their bodies surrender, or they make the intentional decision to receive only care that makes them comfortable until their bodies rest in a peaceful place.    

I don’t  write all this to have someone feel sorry for my folks nor for us as their family.  Even in just this one hospital where I write, there are perhaps a hundred patients and families who are in this same place in life.  I write this because today I am spending a little time in gratitude for my folks.  I know there will come a day, likely much sooner than I expect, when they will not be with us.  

During this season of Lent, as the Christian faith considers all kinds of reflections about the nature of life, of death, and of living life more fully, I note for myself and whoever else might listen, the appreciation of having family who push life to the limits.  And, in doing so, they bless and strengthen so many more lives.  Thanks be to God!

 

Markers on the Journey

•January 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Maybe I have been driving too much lately.  I feel like I have memorized the scenery from Wellston to Luther.  And from Luther to Wellston.  As well as from Wellston to Oklahoma City.  I can tell you how many miles it is from our house to almost every hospital in Oklahoma City.  I can tell you how many miles it is from our house to each of our grandkids’ homes.  I can tell you how many miles it is to each of our children’s homes, as well as how many miles it is to my Dad’s house in Arkansas.  I know how many miles it is from my dad’s house to the VA Hospital in North Little Rock as well as to the VA Hospital in Little Rock.  I know how far it is from the hospitals to Dad’s favorite eating place in Little Rock.

In a lot of ways I am glad these are predictable.  I know where I am by the scenery and by the mile markers.  I like predictable.  But things change.

We are in the season of Epiphany, a season which marks journeys.  The magi as they come to see Jesus, Jesus as he comes to be baptized by John, the disciples as they are called by Jesus to follow him to a new life.

My dad is now 94 years old.  I am 65.  Jeni and I have been married for 10 years.  Each day I am reminded that my body is showing both the miles and years I have put on it. And my retirement is just a few months away.

I know there will be some changes in the days and months to come.  That is the nature of journey, whether it is physical, spiritual, emotional, or other.  I’m letting go of the things that are less important to me.  While most of those are just objects, stuff which was important at one point, and now has the opportunity to be important to someone else, I am also learning to let go of the ministries I have enjoyed for so long and in so many places.  It’s both a good thing and a difficult one as well.

For so long, almost 46 years now, I have worked in the church in some way or another. My folks in my churches have listened to countless sermons, waded through Bible studies and committee meetings with me, and loved me.  I could not ask for more.

So what now?  We are beginning to collect boxes, go through all the stuff in the house.  Deciding what needs to move with us and what needs to find a new home.  Because life is more than stuff.  Life is the richness of relationships formed over the years.  Life is the joy of lying down on the floor with your granddaughter (even if she has to help you up.) Life is spending time with your spouse. Life is teaching your grandsons how to drive with a manual transmission.  Life is helping grandsons change the oil and put new brakes on their pickup.  Life is shopping with granddaughters.

These are the markers on my life’s journey.  I might not know exactly where I am, but I am enjoying it anyway!  2000px-Mile_Marker_1.svg

Thanks to the People called “Methodist”

•March 23, 2017 • 1 Comment

Today at one of my churches, the Wellston United Methodist Church, we said goodbye to one of our own.  She had been President of our United Methodist Women for more than 25 years, and occupied the same space in the pew of our sanctuary for as long as most folks could remember.

We loved her.  She was kind of a crusty saint, but she was one of ours.  So, early this morning, or perhaps even late last night, in kitchens all over this area, Methodists fixed food for the family to eat.  And this morning they brought it to the church – meat loaf, chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, along with an infinite variety of dessert – cakes, pies, puddings.

This morning the Methodists were there early.  Because the service was at 10:00 a.m. with the meal for the family around 11 or so after they came back from the cemetery.

The funeral was lovely, and the meal even lovelier.  Because there is something that happens at a meal after a funeral.  Everyone gets a chance to catch up with one another, retell the family stories, and marvel at how old everyone has gotten.

At the meal, everyone was patient.  The family as they ate and visited with one another.  The folks who prepared the food and then were going to clean up afterward.  All took the time it needed.  Because that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”

And when the family left, the good folks called Methodists cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, went back to their jobs.  And the family went home to hopefully rest a bit.

Some of the same folks who so faithfully helped make all the magic happen today were back at the church this evening.  Almost 12 hours later.  And they practiced anthems for Sunday.  And you could see the fatigue on many of their faces.  It was an incredibly long day, but that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”  Especially if you’re a Methodist.

So tonight, at the end of this very long day, I am especially grateful for the people called “Methodists.”  Because each day they make a difference in the lives of the people of their community of faith.  And that influence, that love, that incredible grace, flows out to the communities in which they serve.

Thank you, kind folks, for your grace, your great love, and your untiring patience.  Jesus and John Wesley are proud of you tonight.  As am I. open_hearts_logo

Another Ash Wednesday

•February 27, 2017 • 2 Comments

I am not really sure why I am fascinated with Ash Wednesday.  I did not grow up in a faith tradition where we celebrated this important day in the life of the church.  I was introduced more fully to the meaning of this day when I began attending a img_0098United Methodist Church.

Every year, my thoughts are captivated by this day in the church’s life.  There are so many important symbols – our kneeling at the rail to receive the ashes, the prayers of repentance, the practices of Lent (either taking on or giving up something), and t
he consideration of our own mortality.  For me, it is the burning of the palm leaves from Palm Sunday of the year before which provokes my spirit.  There is just something so incredibly rhythmic about this cycle.  “Sunday’s Palms Are Wednesday’s Ashes” as the hymn title goes.

This year there have burn bans in Oklahoma.  And with the Oklahoma winds, we have to pick a day when there is little or no wind.  That in itself img_0099requires some planning.  This morning I burned those palm leaves out of the driveway of the United Methodist parsonage in Wellston.  In full view of the passersby on the highway.  With lots of smoke and flame and cars slowing down trying to figure out what I was doing – a grown man setting fire to something in an old baby bathtub, right in front of the house.

After all the leaves are burned and I move the old tub, there are always a few palm leaves which seem to escape the burning.  Maybe they are not quite ready to take their img_0101place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.

I know some folks like that.  Folks who cannot quite grasp the ultimate significance of the lives they are living on this earth.  Folks who are not aware of the depths to which the witness of their lives affects others.  Not quite ready to take their place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.  Folks like me.  Folks like you.

May this Ash Wednesday and this Lenten season move us closer to God.  May it move us closer to each other.