Today I Saw God

Why Bother?

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On my morning walk I decided to take a different path to spice things up so I turned into Middleton Farm. As I walked deeper into the neighborhood I saw a monument sitting on top of a small hill. I felt a nudge to walk up and take a look. The monument read "At Rest Bradley" and there at the base of the monument lay a yellow carnation. Just as I had done the day before in Maryland, someone had stopped by this grave and remembered the lives of those memorialized by this monument.

Why does someone do this? Why take flowers and lay them on a gravesite hidden in a development? My own trip to the cemeteries only a few days ago was about honoring the request my father made before he died. His was a tradition of visiting five family cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Christmas. At each grave he would leave either a yellow or a red rose (I took carnations because, let's be honest, roses are expensive!). My trip Friday was for my Dad, in fact, at the end of the trip I added a visit to his gravesite in Arlington.

As I stood there Sunday morning at the gravesite of the Bradley family I realized others were doing the same thing (and with yellow carnations too!). It occurred to me that it may be more than a ritual. Standing over a family grave is an opportunity to reflect on the lives that are woven into the tapestry of my own life. Friday I visited my grandparent's graves, the graves of their parents and their grandparents. I stood before tombstones with dates as far back as 1865. More than a hundred fifty years and six generations were remembered on that journey.

I thought back to Friday afternoon and how I stood there at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church listening to the church bells belt out the hymn How Great Thou Art and how I sang along, "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy my heart shall find. Then I shall bow with humble adoration and then proclaim my God how great thou art." I realize now that the trip to the cemeteries is more than a promise I made to my dad to care for and worry about the graves of our ancestors. It is a reminder of the cloud of witnesses that now enjoy the presence of God. Remembering them is remembering the importance of family and the promise of eternal life. I am honored and humbled to have the privilege to visit the graves of those who came before me and I look forward to the day when I will meet them and hear their stories.

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Dear Graduates,

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Dear Graduates,

It is so refreshing to see your newly decorated caps and gowns, photos on the quad and smiling announcements on social media. Whether from high school, college or graduate school, graduation often symbolizes new beginnings and bright futures. However, I also remember a fair share of anxiety around these milestone moments. As we prepare to honor our graduating seniors at Floris United Methodist Church Sunday, June 4, I want to take a minute to address some of the stress and anxiety that so many experience.

Our culture tends to always focus on tomorrow. "What's next?" "Where are you going?" "What are you doing with your life?" This is true of almost any phase, but I can think of no worse time than high school and college for these piercing questions. "Have you chosen your major yet?" "Which college will you go to?" "Are you sure you want to go to a liberal arts school?" "What is your career track?" "Do you have an internship lined up?"

I wish I could tell you that this anxiety-producing conversational style would end after college, but it doesn't. Instead, the questions simply shift a little. "When are you going to settle down?" "Why are you still renting?" "Why aren't you married?" "You know, you are getting a little old. Aren't you worried you won't be able to have children?" People get in such a frenzy over other people's tomorrows that they barely let you enjoy today.

When I was in high school, I hadn't really figured out my future, and this seriously stressed me out. As it turns out, I never really mastered predicting the future, which tells me fortune telling is probably not in my life plan. This is still disappointing. Even in college I had no idea that my chosen career path in education would later come to a screeching halt so I could pursue worship leadership. Slightly older Megan still had no idea what she was doing, and I'm pretty sure I can say the same about my present self.

I see this as a common worry amongst my younger musicians as they fumble about, trying on different titles to see how they feel. Psychologist? Doctor? Musician? Dog walker? CIA operative? However, I'd encourage you to relax a little. It's okay. You're going to be okay. Choosing the wrong school or major freshman year will not ruin your life. It's important to do work, make plans and be responsible, but there is no eleventh commandment that states, "Thou shalt get your life together by eighteen and map out a plan for your entire future by twenty-two." Honestly I don't even think it's possible to have your entire life planned even by forty-two or fifty-two. My experience has taught me that God's will and call on my life might morph and change over time. What is appropriate for me now might not be where God leads me a year from now.

God does not call us to have the perfect plan. Rather, God calls us to abide in him. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love each other. Those are the most important commandments. The right career path will reveal itself to you, but often it is easier to discern God's calling in your life when you are truly in relationship with God. When you start to feel overwhelmed with applications, deadlines and an uncertain future, take a minute and return to God's word. Abide in him and carve out time for prayer and meditation. You never know what door God might open or what answer might be provided in the quiet stillness of prayer or while diving into a Bible study.

It's also important during this stressful time that you remember God's call to love others. Kindness and generosity are forgotten relics when we become hyper-focused on accomplishing our next task or getting from point A to point B. When you're considering blowing off your family gathering because you need one more hour to study, don't. Give yourself a break and actually spend time with your loved ones.

For those of you in high school, you might soon be leaving your childhood home forever. You will revisit, but it will never feel the same as it does right now. Some day you'll miss waking up to breakfast on the weekends or late night chats with your sister. That annoying brother will not have as many opportunities to poke fun at you again, and you'll even miss the "Dad jokes." Hug your mom a few extra times and help your sibling with their homework. This time is precious.

For those of you leaving college, there will never be another time like this in your entire life. Embrace your friends, laugh all night and soak in the experiences. Spend some time lounging on the quad and barbecuing with neighbors on their tiny, beat-up grill with cheap frozen hamburger patties you bought by scamming off your parents' Costco membership. If you are too focused on what's next, you'll miss out on the beauty of this special moment.

So go forth, my darling little graduates. Like so many others in your life, I'm overwhelmingly excited for what the future holds for you. However, I'm just as excited for the experiences you are capturing right now. Hold on to them, enjoy them and forget about tomorrow for a minute so you can truly appreciate today.

An old(er) person who gets called "ma'am" occasionally

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Be Good, Be Strong, Be Brave

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When our daughters were growing up, my husband often traveled out of town for work. Over the years, the girls and their daddy developed a ritual for saying their farewells, which they still observe today as the girls leave for college each semester or when it is time to say goodbye after a visit.

Each time they part, Steve will kiss the palm of each of his daughters' hands, and the girls will then hold their palm to their face for a moment while they say out loud:

"Daddy loves me."

Then it is their turn to remind their daddy of their love for him. They kiss their daddy's much bigger palm, and he holds his palm to his face and repeats the reassuring promise.

"Alex loves me."

"Brookie loves me."

After wrapping them tightly in his arms for a final hug, Steve looks them in the eye and reminds them of his expectations for them. Each time, he says these words:

"Be good, be strong, be brave!"

You can imagine how adorable this ritual was when they were tiny and he had to pick them up for the goodbye hug. For me, it may be even more meaningful to watch now that they are 21 and 23-years-old. As independent young women, they still choose to go out into the world under the covering of their daddy's blessing and love. He names them beloved and reminds them who they are and to whom they belong. They are good. They are strong. They are brave. His blessing and exhortation reminds them that he expects them to remember who they are and behave accordingly.

As we were discussing this ritual the other night, Steve and I talked about the messages we received from our fathers, who are both now in heaven. We discovered we both still hear their voices in our heads sometimes. While my relationship with my father was complicated by his struggle with alcoholism, he instilled in me a strong belief in my ability to tackle any challenge and achieve my goals. From the time I was born, he delighted in me and told me I was smart and strong. According to him, there was nothing in this world I couldn't be or do. Although he couldn't defeat the demons that kept him trapped in self-destruction, I never doubted his belief in me. He and my mom named me well, perhaps the greatest gift we parents have to offer our children.

Throughout scripture, we are offered a similar blessing and promise from our Abba Father who names us beloved. Repeatedly, in both the Old and New Testaments, God reminds us who we are and to whom we belong. In a variety of phrasing and in many different contexts, God tells his people to take heart:

"Be brave. Be strong. Do not fear, for I will be with you."

God doesn't promise life won't be hard. He doesn't promise we won't have trouble and heartache. He does, however, promise over and over and over again that he will never leave us. He will go before us, and he will come behind us. We can be brave because we know our mighty God has our back in every situation.

Because of God's passion for us, we are named beloved. We are good. We are strong. We are brave.

When we forget, we must remind one another until we remember who we are. Let's choose to show up for each other and name each other well.

Hey friend, in case someone hasn't told you in a while, let me remind you of your name today. You are good. You are strong. You are brave. And best of all, you are God's beloved.

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I Chose Forgiveness

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Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.

My life changed in July of 2010. I'd quit my job and uprooted my kids from their school and home to move out to Virginia. I took a call halfway across the county from my husband, who had moved a month ahead of us, that left me reeling. He didn't love me anymore, and my future had suddenly, to me, gone sideways.

I spent the next few years sorting through the pieces of my life. An affair, sex and porn addictions, verbal abuse, financial hardship and loss of my support network left me stripped bare. I couldn't imagine forgiving the other women or my husband. I couldn't bare to face the fact that he seemingly didn't care. I couldn't bare coming to church. I couldn't bare happy people. I couldn't bare couples.

I ran. I got a job. I started to tell my friends and family. I started to get my life back. I started talking to God again. I went to counseling. I fought for my marriage and family. I still hated the other women. I still hated my husband.

Then, with God and my support network, I gradually began to step back into my life. I know God placed people in my life to pull me through the darkest moments. I filed for divorce and began another battle. I still hadn't been able to forgive him, or the women, for the destruction of our family.

When the divorce was final, I made a conscious decision to forgive him. I would mentally remind myself that I chose to love my children, which means I can't hate their father. I felt the peace that passes no understanding when I let go of the hate, the hurt, the disappointment and the desire to control. I talked to one of the women. I looked her in the eye and wished her happiness in her life. Without forgiveness in my heart, I would not have had the strength to do that.

Some days I struggle with my decision to forgive him. I try, sometimes more successfully than others, to give it to God. I know God loves me too much to choose bitterness and hate. I chose forgiveness.

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Forgiving Family

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Editor's Note: During Floris UMC's February 2017 sermon series, "Unburdened," we asked congregation members to anonymously share their stories of forgiveness. The following is one of those stories.

When it comes to family and money…I would have never thought that my family would choose money, but they did.

More than 20 years ago my aunt passed away without a will. My aunt had substantial wealth. She owned several homes in the area and lived on a big farm in Luray, Virginia. This was my mother's sister. So, when mom was talking to us about the inheritance, she said it would split three ways between my mom, her sister and her brother's kids (three of them). My uncle had passed away a few years earlier.

I thought everything would go easy and painlessly. Mom just thought to liquidate everything and split the money among the families. Real easy, right? Well, that is when my cousins spoke up and said they were promised this and that. There was nothing in writing; no proof of what they were saying was true. While our family and my uncle's family agreed on liquidating everything, my aunt's kids did not want that. They wanted the homes, the money, everything!

So, here come the lawyers and the court trails and the name callingangry letters back and forth. I have not seen my aunt or cousins in 20 years. My mother passed away in 2015 without ever seeing her sister (my aunt) again. I begged her to go and talk to her sister, but she kept saying that she was not ready. I would then say, "Well, when are you going to be ready, Mom?" Mom always preached to us growing up about staying together as a family, yet here she was just contradicting herself by not going and seeing her sister. I would tell her to not let it end like this. "You need to go and see her, go yell at here, talk or whatever." The one thing she would do was talk to her on the phone, that was about as close as she got to seeing her. It was a very sad ending because they were so, so close at one time.

Today, my siblings want nothing to do with my cousins at all. They call them evil and the devil himselfthe name-calling goes on and on. They get upset with me for speaking to them, but I tell them, "You all need to let go of the hate and anger as I have. It will just continue to eat at you for years and years." I would say, "You know they will have to answer for what they done to God." I sure would not want to stand in front of the creator and telling him why I went against all he taught us.

They tore the family apart all for the love of money. As a Christian, I learned long ago to let go of the hate and anger. I have talked to them on the phone from time to time. The only real question I ever wanted to ask them was, "Why?" "Why did you choose money over family?" I have been a Christian for over 30 years, and I must admit that it took me a long time to forgive. I pray that someday they will want to meet with all of us and ask for our forgiveness. That would be really something! Do I think it will happen? No, I do not. But, it would be a wonderful thing to happen to bring what is left of our family together again.

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