December 8, 2014

Compassion


I had an experience in church yesterday that rocked me to my core, and I want to tell you about it.
A little background first...

I LOVE my church for lots of reasons. It is very traditional which reminds me of the little church that I grew up in in Columbiana. I love singing hymns that are a hundred years old led by a big choir. I love reciting the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed. Over the last two years, I've become more involved in the church, beginning with Disciple I Bible Study last year and continuing with Covenant Bible Study currently. Through both of these experiences, I've met people that have supported and nurtured my faith and have helped me in ways I can't even number to grow in my personal relationship with Christ.

A little bit about my church...It is HUGE and is in the heart of the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. If you're not familiar with the area, it is very much an upper-middle to upper class part of town, so the congregation is full of beautiful families and beautiful people dressed in beautiful clothes. Our sanctuary is equally beautiful as is the music from our choir and the message that our pastor delivers every Sunday. All of this was consistently true yesterday, but someone stood out to me in a way that I don't think I will ever forget.

Just as the service began, a gentleman came in and sat on a bench very near me under one of the church's several stained glass windows that line the walls of the sanctuary. Now, most people sit in the pews that face the front of the church. The benches along the wall are usually occupied by ushers, parents with fussy babies who might need a quick exit, late-comers, and/or overflow on Easter morning. That being said, for whatever reason, I am so thankful that he chose this bench, because it was the closest one to me. Something seemed so fitting about the fact that the window over this particular bench depicts Jesus with His arms open wide sharing His Word with all who would listen from a boat on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:1-11).

I noticed the gentleman immediately. He was maybe in his 50s (I'm terrible at guessing people's ages), and dressed in, what looked to be, his "Sunday best". He was wearing faded blue pants, tattered and worn bright blue tennis shoes, a gray button-down shirt, a red, white, and blue tie, and a black overcoat. He carried with him one of those recycling bags that they give away at Publix - it was full and the handles were tied together in a tight knot. I don't know if he was homeless, but it was obvious that he didn't have much to call his own...maybe just what was in that Publix bag. I didn't know, and I tried hard not to make assumptions about him.

He participated in all parts of the service though he never used the printed bulletin for recitations or a hymnal. Typically when the Gospel lesson is read, the standard response from the congregation is, "Thanks be to God," but that was not the case for this gentleman. Maybe it was because I was acutely aware of his presence, but when he responded yesterday, I could hear his voice clearer than anyone else's as he said, "Thank you, dear God." He wasn't loud, but there was something about the way he said it. It was like he was really thanking God, and it was very unlike the response from the rest of us with our monotone words that roll off of our tongues seemingly on auto-pilot. His voice had real emotion in it. He was really thankful.

The service continued into the sermon titled, Shaken by the Present. This was the second Sunday in Advent and therefore the second sermon in a series rooted in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The message centered around Mr. Scrooge's feelings of rejection and regret and how those feelings clouded his ability to see the human need around him. We are all God's children after all - none of us more valuable than the next but all of us precious beyond measure in His sight. Once we open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters around us, our hearts soften with compassion, and joy is released. That's what happened to Mr. Scrooge, and that was exactly what was happening to me in that very moment.

After the sermon, it was time for the ushers to collect the offering. This is one of my favorite parts of the service, because it is always accompanied by a beautiful anthem from our choir. As we prepared our offerings, I noticed the gentleman to my right working earnestly to untie the knotted handles of his bag. Once he got them released, he reached in and pulled out two coin purses. He opened the first one and it was full of little pieces of paper. He sifted through those, closed it, and set it aside. He opened the second one and began pulling coins out...as many as he could. Most of them were pennies, but there was a little silver mixed in. He laid his offering on the bench beside him, carefully counted it out, gathered it up in his hand, and waited to offer what he had.

I was having a hard time keeping it together. In fact, I wasn't keeping it together at all. I knew what he was doing when he started pulling out the coin purses, and my tears started to flow uncontrollably. I'm talking SOBBING MESS, people. A million different thoughts and emotions were running through me and then, of course, that still, small voice whispering, "open your eyes."

When the usher put the offering plate in front of the gentleman he proudly placed his gift in it. In that moment, he gave me a gift...three gifts, actually - the gift of awareness; the gift of perspective; and the gift of thanks.

As we stood to sing the closing hymn, I kept my eyes straight down in my hymnal still trying to pull myself together. I took a few deep breaths and thought about what to do next. I wanted to meet this man. I wanted to know his name. I wanted to ask him to come back next week and sit with me. When I finally lifted my head up, I looked over to my right, and he was gone.

In the benediction, our pastor issued a challenge to the congregation. He said to look around. Find someone in need and offer them compassion. I was immediately filled with regret that I didn't take the opportunity to talk to the man before he disappeared. I was so disappointed in myself - I could've and SHOULD'VE done more - but then I prayed. I prayed that God would bring him back next week and give me another chance to shake the man's hand that had made such an impression on me and had taught me an invaluable lesson without even knowing my name.

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”



MERRY CHRISTMAS!

September 17, 2014

Plentiful Sunshine


Have you ever noticed that weather reports tend to lead with the chance of BAD weather rather than telling us the glass-half-full version? I mean, really. You never hear, "There's a 70 percent chance that it WON'T rain today!" No. The report usually tells us of the likelihood that it WILL rain, even if it's slight. Why is that?

My new friend Tommy planted that seed in my brain this morning. Who is Tommy, you ask? Tommy Newberry (who I only "know" from reading this book, by the way) is the author of a daily devotional that I've just started reading - 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life. It is based on his 4:8 Principle (Philippians 4:8) of shifting our focus to the things that bring us joy rather than dwelling on the stuff that brings us down. That's a really hard thing to do, if you really think about it. It is for me anyway.

I am a worrier. I worry about money, relationships, the future, Auburn football, and a myriad of other issues, most over which I have absolutely no control. It seems automatic for my brain to go to the places of obsessing about what isn't going right in my life, and what good does that do? I end up just twisting myself into knots and making matters worse. It hasn't worked for me so far, so I'm going to give "living 4:8" a shot.

I'm on Day 3 of 40 and today's devotional is titled "Hundreds of Problems, Millions of Blessings: the Joy of Perspective." The truth is I have WAY more blessings in my life than I have problems. I'd even go as far as to say that's true for most of us. Here are a few things to which I'm going to actively shift my thinking when I feel myself starting to drift over to the worry zone:

  • A relationship with God that is growing and changing everyday in deeply meaningful ways. 
  • My big family filled with people who love and protect me intensely. 
  • More friends than I deserve who are there for me in every way that I need.
  • A career that I love, and a job that feels important and impactful to the people I serve.
  • An over abundance of doggy affection.
I really am surrounded by love. What's better than that?


Look. I'm no Cindy Sunshine, but I'm going to do my best to start thinking more like her than like Debbie Downer.

I am committing this verse to memory today:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (MSG) 
- Philippians 4:8

As I closed my book this morning, I decided to check the weather report on the handy dandy app on my iPhone, and what do ya know?!


Wishing you all plentiful sunshine and blessings today and everyday!

March 3, 2014

Giving Up

tap...tap...tap....
Is this thing on??

It's hard to believe that the season of Lent is upon us once again. This season has been very special to me for many years now. I always give something up (some years more successfully than others), but it's more than that. More recently it has been a time of prayer, faith, and recommitment to what is really important.

Before I get to the more personal part, let's cover a few basics about Lent:

It's not just for Catholics! Each year on Ash Wednesday when I'm walking around with a big black mark on my forehead, I inevitably hear, "Oh. I didn't know you were Catholic" or something of that sort. While it's true that the Catholic church may have historically put the most emphasis on Lent, it does not mean that they are the only ones who observe it. I am Methodist, but that is less important than the fact that I am a Christian, and this is just one of the ways that I choose to practice and demonstrate my faith.

What is that on you forehead? The Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday and many churches hold special services on this day. Usually the ashes come from the burning of the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter). The imposition of ashes is not mandated in the Bible and certainly isn't a requirement, but many (including me) find it a meaningful practice showing reverence, repentance, and commitment.

What is the point of "giving something up"? Lent is symbolic for the 40 days (not including Sundays) that Jesus spent in the desert where he fasted and was tempted by Satan to turn away from God. In the Lenten observance, the point is to make some sort of sacrifice as a show of faith and use the season as a time of preparation for the Holiest Week of the year when we celebrate Christ's glorification. I've seen some of my deeply believing brothers and sisters in Christ question this practice of giving up something for Lent. The fact is, there is no scriptural mandate for it. For me, it is a personal challenge and a way to refocus on what matters the most in my life.

40 days not including Sundays? Why not Sundays? Actually, I really don't know. The literature suggests that Sunday is a feast day or a mini-Easter, so I suppose for those who truly fast during Lent, it's necessary to have a feast day to...you know...stay alive. I once engaged in a heated debate with a friend over the "not including Sundays" bit. She thought I was just making it up, so I could have a cheat day. Even though I wasn't, I've actually tended to include Sundays in my "giving up", because I think I might lose a bit of my resolve to see it all the way through if I didn't.

Personally, I have had quite a year, and I intend to make this Lent season more meaningful than ever. I'm not going to get into specifics about what I'm giving up, because that's really not important. It's not about avoiding coffee, chocolate, fast food, or whatever else. It's really about preparing my heart for a deeper relationship with my Savior. I know that this should be my focus everyday - not just during Lent. That being said, I am going to use this season to quiet my soul and avoid distractions that pull me further away from Him.

Like everyone else, I am carrying my own cross, and I hope that by Easter I can celebrate my own resurrection along with my Savior's. I pray the same thing for you. If you believe in the power of prayer and have room on your prayer list, I would certainly appreciate a place on it. I would be honored to pray for you as well. Feel free to leave a comment or email me directly if there is something specific on your heart. If not, I will simply pray for peace and love to find you in the way that God intended for all of us.

 

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