November 20, 2013

Cultivate Gratitude

Want to have less stress and be healthier? Cultivate gratitude.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's a good time to remember how blessed we are. When we hear the news, watch TV, or read the headlines, it is a good reminder to be grateful for what we have and who we have to share it with.

Despite hardships and loss, God continues to bless us. Please take a few minutes to reflect on the grace that God gives.

Cultivating gratitude is good for your soul but also for your health and well being. This is more than "seeing the glass half full instead of half empty" or "positive thinking." Cultivating gratitude is looking for God in every situation and looking at each person as a reflection of the image of God. Cultivating gratitude helps us discern God's blessing. It does not minimize suffering, but it can help you be open to love and be loved.

This Thanksgiving as you eat, shop, watch TV--whatever, thank God simply for being our God.


November 15, 2013

Scheduling Meetings on the Pastor's Day Off

I should be over this by now, but it bothers me that church people do not respect the pastor's day(s) off.

Yes, yes, I realize that there are emergencies. I understand that. But in the last couple of months, the church has scheduled multiple meetings and expects my husband to attend. In fact,  my husband (the pastor) has even scheduled some of the meetings himself. His comment to me is that this is an exceptional time of year--budgeting and the stewardship ministry kick-off. Naturally, those are vital. But it just seems that there is always something "vital" going on.

Now that our kids are on their own, I'm not bothered as much. But it makes it very hard to plan for us to do something together when I never know if there is a meeting or some other event planned.

Other minister's wives and husbands have told me that their spouse may not take any time off at all, so I guess I'm fortunate in that regard. And he is better than he used to be about having to go to all the meetings. My husband takes 2 non-consecutive weekdays off, but often times, he is planning or studying or going to Conference meetings on those days. And of course, it also doesn't count emergencies like funerals or hospital visits for emergency surgeries. And while he may "take off" 2 days, he works, on average, 7:00 am to 10:00 pm on all the other days. He does this, in part, because he's just that kind of person and would work that hard no matter what kind of job he had, but the church is only too willing to enable him.

You must also know that our church has about 800 members and there is no associate. I've jokingly said to some of the Staff Parish Committee folks that they are killing my husband and need to hire an associate. Actually many of them agree, but aren't moved sufficiently to do something about it.

On the other hand, our church is doing very well. It is a bright spot on the landscape of other churches that are declining. We continue to have many new members and meet our budget. And there are plans for expansion. I have no doubt that my spouse's leadership is largely responsible; and I imagine that when my husband stands before St. Peter, he will hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So, I support my husband and do not complain--unless it gets too bad. But how many of us spouses are in a similar position? We want the church to thrive, but at what cost?

Grace, Kathy

November 13, 2013

God Is with Us in the Midst of Storms, even Typhoon Haiyan

By now we have all heard and seen news about the tragedy unfolding in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. As people across the globe are reaching out to help, I have no doubt that UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is in the thick of things doing ministry on behalf of all of us.

While reporting the story, a newscaster raised this question: Where is God in all this? Here this another true story from the Philippines.

A dawn, just as the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines during World War II, all the local people ran to the mountains, hiding themselves the best they could. It was imperative that no one make a sound, because if the Japanese found them, death and fates worse than death awaited. So whole families hid in the recesses of the mountains. That is all except one family. The mother was pregnant. She had hoped that the baby would wait until the family had escaped, but her contractions began the night before and by morning, the baby was coming. There was no time. But somehow her husband and other relatives, got her out of the village and into some bushes. She was out of sight but dangerously close to the oncoming soldiers. She told the rest of the family to run, which they reluctantly did. Because they all knew that even if she succeeded to giving birth in silence, the newborn's cries would give them away and into the hands of the enemy.

Silently suffering and alone, the mother did succeed in giving birth to a healthy baby boy. She prayed and prayed. Where is God? When the baby came, he did not cry but went right to nursing. He and his mother remained undetected by the soldiers. Silently together they laid in the bushes well into the night. And that is how the father found them when he came back and took them to safety.

Later, when the family was together, still hiding but this time safely in the mountains, the sister asked,"What should we name the baby?" Without fear or hesitation, the mother answered, "Emmanuel, because God is with us."

I met Emmanuel many years later. As it turned out, he found his way to the U.S. and eventually his family found our congregation. He was a successful professional and father of 2 children. But in his mind, this apocryphal story made him what he was--a recipient of God's grace and a beacon of hope for others.

Where was God? In the courage of people, loving each other the best they knew how. In the miracle of birth. In the silence that followed. In the faith of parents that was instilled in their children. In the will to endure. In the service of people who gave their lives. In the hope for a better future.

Grace, Kathy

November 11, 2013

You Know You Have a Child-Friendly, Healthy Church When...

This past Sunday no acolytes showed up to light the candles at the worship service. Sometimes this just happens and it happens in all churches. People don't show up, but life goes on. In our church acolytes are kids from the third to sixth grade, and they receive extensive training. It's a big deal to be an acolyte. And this Sunday something truly remarkable happened.

But first you must know that in addition to lighting the candles on the altar before the service and extinguishing them afterward, another part of the acolytes' job is to hand out the offering plates before the prayer, and then walk behind the ushers, collecting the attendance registration pads. When there are no acolytes, the liturgist just fills in and hands the ushers the offering plates.

But this Sunday there was a young boy sitting in the second row. When he saw that there were no acolytes to hand out the offering plates, he got up, went to the altar, and gave the plates to the ushers. It was a spontaneous gesture and he carried the job off flawlessly. There was no hesitation. He slipped in so quickly that nobody seemed to notice. The ushers took the plates and the service went on.

I was so impressed that the boy felt free enough to just step forward unbidden. These aren't many adults who would do the same. I wasn't the only one touched. I saw several others tear up too, because we know this boy.

I'm so thankful that our church is the kind of place where children take an active role. It speaks to the overall health of the church that when there is a need, someone just steps up--not with a lot of fanfare but just because the job needs to be done.

To me this also says something about being a Christian. When there is a job to do, a Christian is the kind of person who just helps out--no criticism, no expectation of praise, just a willingness to do the work of God.

Grace, Kathy

November 4, 2013

Healing the Hurt

            Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to go on the Walk to Emmaus, and I expected that when I went on this retreat that God would do work in me.  I was surprised, however, that it hurt.
            My dad was a United Methodist pastor, and a very good one at that, as well as a doting father. God had done innumerable wonderful things for countless numbers of people through him, and I have always been proud to be his daughter. I wasn’t in the habit of giving much thought to what the fruitfulness of his ministry had actually cost me. In my mind, I had gained a tremendous upbringing, full of prayers and full of Christ!  On this retreat, I was surprised when this is what God brought up – an awareness of the cost.  As an itinerating family, it had cost me a stable upbringing in a community that knew me from birth and loved me.  We went from church to church, and the church where we were the longest had been a church in which I never really fit in.  In every church and through every move, God did amazing work in the lives of other people, but each move cut into my development in negative ways.
            Now my husband is a United Methodist pastor, and I continue in the life of moving.  In his 8 years of ministry, we have moved 3 times.  Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible sense of disorientation, sensing the tremendous disconnect I have from any one community anywhere on the planet.  And wherever we move, it seems I am surrounded by people who have lived in the community forever, whose parents live there, whose grandparents live there, whose childhood friends live there with their children who now play together.  Even people who have moved away from those communities still get to return on occasion.  There is a cost.
            It was at Emmaus that God brought these things to the forefront of my mind, and I cried and prayed, wound exposed.  It was then that God began to apply the balm.  God’s plan for the fullness of time – the goal of the universe – is to draw all things together into a unity with God that is so close that Jesus speaks of it in terms of his unity to the Father (Ephesians 1:10; John 17:21).  When we draw close to God, we inevitably draw close to others into the only community that is truly forever.  “In me you will lack nothing,” God whispered to my spirit.  “My gift to you is ineffable.”  God wants us all there!
            In the Congo there grew beautiful acacia trees with lovely flowers and leaves.  There were birds that attacked the food supply of the community at one point, and the people needed arrows to shoot the birds down.  And so it was decided that they would use the wood of the acacia trees to make arrows.  To do this, the tree’s flowers and leaves had to be cut off.  The God-given beauty of the branches, the parts of the tree essential for its health and well-being, were discarded.  Then, with its flowers and leaves gone, the branch went through the whittling process, all for the sake of producing a straight, well-balanced arrow.  To become an arrow cost the plant something good, something that other trees got to keep.  But the arrows produced by the acacia were deadly weapons against the threats to the community in the hands of skilled archers.  Was I willing to let my flowers and leaves fall so that my family could be a dreaded weapon in the hands of God, whose aim never falls short?  

            The cost is real.  But so is the gain, for me and for others.  In him I lack nothing, and his gift to me is ineffable.  For the sake of drawing many into this gift, I am privileged to be an arrow in his hands.  And, amazingly, it becomes my joy.


November 1, 2013

All Saints Day

Originally, Halloween was just the prelude to All Saints Day. But these days we celebrate Halloween by dressing up and giving candy away to kids, but we really don't do much for All Saints Day, which is today. We will remember those who have passed away during the past year at church on Sunday, but we don't have services today.

But All Saints Day presents an opportunity for us to think about all the saints that have gone before us and who are now part of that great cloud of witnesses. It's a chance to remember what being a faithful witness is really all about.

In the first church we served, there was a kind soul by the name of Miss Esther. Neither she nor her family came from great means, but she was goodness and light personified. (Although she also made the best coconut cakes I ever ate.) In her own way, Miss Esther taught me what it meant to be an unselfish follower of Jesus. And there have been many times that I wish that I could be as kind hearted as she was.

On this All Saints Day, I also remember my parents, who despite their all too human failings, were as faithful as they knew how to be. I also remember those pastor's spouses who pioneered to make parsonage living easier for me and my family. Further, I pray that when my children and grandkids remember me, they'll think of me as a faithful witness of our Lord.

As the song says, "Let those who come behind us, find us faithful."

I hope you take this opportunity to remember that saints who have touched your life.

Grace, Kathy