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Today I Saw God

When There Are Strong Winds in Your Life - Cuando hay vientos fuertes en tu vida

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We were having two days of intense winds, and I was worried about my neighbor’s tree, a tall pine more than fifty feet high, and other trees in my yard.

My husband had gone to work, and I had the day off. I was still in my pajamas when I decided to move my car to the place where my husband parks his car. I was afraid that a tree branch in our front yard would fall on my car. I was barely back inside my house when I heard a rumble. I ran to the kitchen window and could not see the neighbor's pine tree. It had fallen! I opened my front door and saw my car buried under pine branches. I started shaking and a neighbor came to see if I was okay. He told me that he had just driven around the neighborhood and the only tree that had fallen was the one that destroyed my car.

It’s incredible how everything can change in an instant. Nobody is exempt. A tree destroyed my means of transportation.

Jesus never said that we would escape trials or problems. On the contrary, He said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Our environment is full of pain, suffering and difficulties. Believers are not immune. An illness, unemployment, a divorce, an accident, abandonment, sexual abuse, depression or losing a loved one can change the course of our lives.

As believers, we are not free of problems or afflictions. How we differentiate ourselves from the rest, is the way face them. We do not concentrate on our difficulties. On the contrary, we see God working with us through these situations, and we are victorious because we are not alone facing our adversities. “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.” Psalm 120:1.  

The insurance paid me more than what I expected for my car and a new fence. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Romans 8:28.

If there are winds in your life that are disturbing your spiritual tranquillity, I challenge you to attend church, a source of nutrition for your spiritual hunger. Let's find refuge in the presence of the Lord. He is the only one who can calm our hearts in the midst of the storms of life. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

Joy is not the lack of problems, but the presence of Christ in your existence! What do you need to change in your life to be able to feel joy in the midst of trials? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.


Estábamos teniendo dos días de intensosvientos, y yo me encontrabapreocupadapor un árbol de mi vecino, un pino de más de cincuenta pies de alto, y otros árboles quetengo en mi jardín.

Mi esposo se había ido a trabajar y yo tenía el día libre. Todavía estaba en pijama cuando decidí mover mi auto al sitio donde mi esposo parquea su carro. Temía que una rama de un árbol en nuestro patio delantero cayera sobre mi auto. Acababa de entrar a mi casa cuando escuché un estruendo, corrí a la ventana de la cocina y no ví el pino del vecino, ¡Se había caído! Yo abrí la puerta principal y vi mi automóvil enterrado bajo ramas de pino, en ese momento empecé a temblar, un vecino vino a ver si yo estaba bien. Él me dijo que acababa de conducir por el vecindario y que el único árbol caído fue el que destruyó mi automóvil.

Es increíble como en un instante todo puede cambiar, nadie está exento. Un árbol destruyó mi medio de transporte.

Jesús nunca dijo que nos escaparíamos de las pruebas, ni de los problemas. Al contrario, Él dijo en Juan 16:33: “Yo les he dicho estas cosas para que en mí hallen paz. En este mundo afrontarán aflicciones, pero ¡anímense! Yo he vencido al mundo.”

Nuestro entorno está lleno de dolor, sufrimiento, y dificultades. Los creyentes no son inmunes. Una enfermedad, el desempleo, un divorcio, un accidente, el abandono, el abuso sexual, la depresión, la pérdida de un ser querido, puede cambiar el rumbo de nuestra vida.

Como creyentes no estamos libres de problemas o aflicciones, lo que si nos diferencia del resto es la manera de afrontarlos.

No nos concentramos en nuestras dificultades, por el contrario vemos a Dios obrando con nosotros a través de estas situaciones, salimos victoriosos porque tenemos el alma saturada de Dios, porque no enfrentamos solos nuestras adversidades. “En mi angustia invoqué al Señor, y él me respondió.” Salmos 120:1.

El seguro me pagó más de lo que esperaba por mi auto y una valla nueva. “Y sabemos que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.” Romanos 8:28.

Si hay vientos en tu vida que están perturbando tu tranquilidad espiritual, te reto a congregarte a la iglesia, allí se ofrece una fuente de nutrición para nuestra hambre espiritual.

Encontramos refugio en la presencia del Señor, Él es el único que puede poner calma en nuestros corazones en medio de las tormentas de la vida. “Y la paz de Dios, que sobrepasa todo entendimiento, cuidará sus corazones y sus pensamientos en Cristo Jesús.” Filipenses 4:7

¡El gozo no es la falta de problemas, sino la presencia de Cristo en tu existir! ¿Qué es lo que necesitas cambiar en tu vida, para poder sentir gozo en medio de las pruebas?

“Alabado sea el Dios y Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Padre misericordioso y Dios de toda consolación, quien nos consuela en todas nuestras tribulaciones para que, con el mismo consuelo que de Dios hemos recibido, también nosotros podamos consolar a todos los que sufren.” 2 Corintios 1:3-4.

Before I Go

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At the end of this year, my husband and I will be moving to Williamsburg. Between now and then we have a number of things to do and a very limited time in which to do them. Two of them are unavoidable: cleaning out the old house and planning the new one. Each of these “to do’s” comes with its own set of challenges and its own offering of unique opportunities. 

Cleaning out what you've collected over the course of a 26-year stay can be both overwhelming and freeing. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing what you find under the weight of all those years. Stuff you’ve forgotten and shoved aside, something you purchased but only used once, and much that time and technology has rendered obsolete. But also tucked away in that storage are a few precious gems: old photos, letters from a friend, a lock of the baby’s hair. These are keepers. I’ll take them with me. 

On the other hand, creating the house you've dreamed of can be both daunting and delightful. While I feel incredibly grateful to be able to build a house, the burden of “getting it right” feels quite heavy. There are so many people to consult, decisions to make and costs to cover. Plus, planning for a future you don’t know in a place you’ve never lived… well, there’s just a lot of guesswork involved. And a lot of hoping. 

I find myself reminded of the words of scripture that greeted me when I was new at Floris and unsure about my decision to leave my old church.  In my very first small group study, we read the words spoken to Abram, “Go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12.1) Not, here’s a map. Not, here are three nice plots of land, choose one. Not even, follow me. Simply, go. And as you go, I’ll show you where and what and how.

But I haven’t left yet! So, as preparations are made, I have been gifted with a short time to complete what I started here. What needs finishing? What loose ends need tying? What haven’t I done yet that I may not get to do again? Honestly, if it weren’t for the impending departure, I doubt I would ever find myself in this place. But now that I do, I am trying to honor it. What do I want to do before I go?

Isn't it interesting how scripture seems to prepare us for ANY occasion? As Bishop Palmer so conveniently reminded us via sermon last week, when Jesus knew he was on his way out, he gathered his disciples to tell them: if you don't remember anything else, remember this: stoop, kneel and wash the wounds of this world. I’ll be honest: taking one's leave does sharpen one's focus, even if divinity isn't in your bloodline. You know what they say, you can't take it with you. 

So, as I take my leave from Floris UMC -- yes, I think a 3-hour commute on a Sunday is probably not in the cards -- I am saddened by the thought that I can't take it, take you, with me. I can't take the friends, the kindnesses, the notes, or the conversations. I can't take the small groups who welcomed me gladly and set me on a level place. I can't take the vitality, the diversity, the fiscal responsibility, or the trust that has inspired deeper stewardship. I can't take the message or the messengers that have shaped the word of God in me, as much as I'd like to.

Nope, I have to leave all that behind. Or do I? 

This pondering is another gift of the before-I-go time. As I look underneath all the clutter I have acquired over my time here, I discover the keepers that I DO get to take with me. In fact, I must, because now they are a part of me. 

  • From you, friends, I have learned the impact of small kindnesses and the power to pay it forward. 
  • From your acceptance, I have gained the confidence to risk being myself without apology, always with an eye tuned to what others have to teach me.
  • From your vitality, born of discipline, I have learned that no's open the doors to yeses I would not otherwise have seen. 
  • Your message has inspired me to think and write, on this blog and elsewhere, and even to publish what I've written.

Thank you for your patience as I have found my way among you, friends. And to my pew-mates who have observed my scribbling furiously during every sermon, thank you for indulging me. It is a labor born of love.

On the wall of my teen-aged bedroom there hung a poster I loved. In the foreground was a beautiful white bird taking flight over rolling surf at the edge of a vast oceanic expanse. Written in script across the sand were the words: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If not, it never really was."

Floris United Methodist Church, you have my enduring thanks and my undying love. As I go, you go with me. I'll be back.

Contemplating

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The following blog posting is Based on the May 16, 2018 Devotion in the Floris UMC Racial Reconciliation Group Meeting: 

In his Dissent of Plessy V. Ferguson, 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, 

“The White race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievement, in education, in wealth, and in power…But in view of the constitution, in the eyes of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens….The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law."

There’s a lot here to unpack here, but for this moment, let’s focus just on the portion, “The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together.”  Do we really believe this, and if we do and we weren’t hypocrites, how would it manifest in our daily lives? 

Many racial groups in our community live side by side with other racial groups but rarely do their lives cross paths other than when traveling along the same roadways. Whites, in particular, sometimes think that they can conduct themselves most of their days within their own world without any need or interest in interacting with any other racial group. This can make them indifferent to those groups, and in some cases, dismissive of those groups needs and interests, or of great value found when racial groups interact in meaningful ways. The irony of white privilege here, that any group other than whites can imagine actually living most of their daily lives without the constant influence of another group’s values and position, doesn’t escape me.There’s still value to the question, however: Pushing back on racial insularity, how is the positive destiny of white people directly linked to the positive destiny of people of color? Alternatively, how are the races so linked that as one rises, the other does, too, or as one falls, the other one does as well? Could each race be considered the canary in the coal mine for the other? 

I’m struck by one of the biggest reasons I’m a part of a racial reconciliation group – none of us is free until all of us are free. My white race is not whole in its humanity nor in its faith and relationship with God until it is reconciled with each race, and it has done the hard work of becoming aware and proactive in ending racism, doing much more than a quick click on the, “Like,” button on a random anti-racism tweet. 

This is a scary thing, though. It requires candor, and it’s just easier to keep living one’s life without rocking the boat or losing friends in uneven efforts at blunt honesty. Suddenly there it is, though: Watch how we inadvertently perpetuate racism either systemically or personally by not saying anything, not getting educated about racism’s very real presence and our roles in ending it.    

We need models of courage to ignite our own moral outrage and displace our unrecognized complacency. New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu made a stunning speech in May 2017 just before workers removed a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the fourth Confederate monument to be dismantled in New Orleans in the past few weeks at the time. The speech went viral on YouTube and Landrieu has since written a book about it and his personal commitment to an anti-racist south. Here’s a portion of the speech: 

There are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp."

“So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.  And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong."            

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.”
-- http://pulsegulfcoast.com/2017/05/transcript-of-new-orleans-mayor-landrieus-address-on-confederate-monuments

Conviction means we hold firmly to belief, we stand resolute. There is great courage – the kind needed for racial reconciliation and reparation - that comes from Christian conviction, in particular. How do any us demonstrate the courage of Christian conviction in today’s world?  Will they know we are Christians by our love alone? And how many times in our lives have we needed to demonstrate the courage of Christian conviction, but it just wasn’t in us, and had we the opportunity to do it over again with such courage, we would have handled it very differently? ‘A plentitude.' Please, Lord, let these things agitate us and call us forward! 

Scripture Mash-up

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I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be.  Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:  

So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord.  Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others.  We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.

What if you fly?

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Much of my life has been spent connected to the Church. The first time I attended church I did not walk in, I was carried. I was brought by my wise and loving parents, baptized and have been here ever since. Although I have fond memories of a life spent in Sunday school, youth group, worship, fellowship, and ultimately bringing my own kids to be baptized, I have never experienced what I refer to as a “direct and powerful encounter with God”. A burning bush experience if you will. Thankfully, I have lived a life of blessing with minimal trials, none too devastating, at least not compared to some of the struggles I have observed in other people’s lives. I am thankful but, to be honest, I have experienced some envy of people that have stories of direct and powerful encounters with God. I love the Lord and as I grow older I have come to love and trust him more and more. I believe I have been faithful in serving him in many ways in the church and outside the church. I hope I have been an example to others and helped lead people to Christ. Recently, I saw that Floris UMC was having informational meetings to discuss Race and Reconciliation efforts. I wanted to attend but found that my schedule did not allow me to make it to the meetings. As oftentimes happens with the Lord, missing a meeting does not preclude you from participating in his plans. I happened to see a post about an event on this very subject on the Virginia United Methodist Church Facebook page. The Bishop was hosting an event in Annandale, a mere 10 minutes from my house. And, as it happens, my schedule was clear that day. I felt compelled to attend and was joyful and excited about learning more. I signed up and thought that maybe I would see someone from Floris UMC at the event. In fact, there was a good-sized group from Floris UMC that attended, learning about issues around race and our role as Christians in the work of racial reconciliation. What was most exciting for me that day is that I very clearly heard the Lord speaking to me about this issue. I was struck by how clearly I heard him say “this is important to me, I want you to do this work for me”. I could relate to John Wesley’s story of how he felt his heart “strangely warmed” and of the story from Luke about the Road to Emmaus where two men who had encountered the resurrected Jesus asked each other “were not our heart burning in us while he talked with us on the road”. This was a first for me and not only powerful but exciting. I had some nervousness and fear about this issue and what, if anything, was required of me. Suddenly, it was clear and I wasn’t as fearful or nervous. I can’t say that I won’t feel fear or anxiety as this effort moves forward but I have an assurance that God is with me and that I am exactly where I need to be. As I approach the half-century mark, I sometimes think that I have missed opportunities that the Lord had for me, that I got caught up in my life and my plans and that maybe that is why I haven’t felt this way before. I won’t live in regret, that’s not healthy for anyone, but I will work to be more connected to God’s plan, rather than my own. I have come to believe that his way is the only way to experience freedom and blessing and the fullness of life. “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask "What if I fall? Oh but my darling, What if you fly?" (quote by Erin Hanson)

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