A Letter To My Kids After The Las Vegas Shooting

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Dearest Zora and Felix,
I just tucked you into bed after hours of rocking on our front porch chairs and singing 13 verses of “the wheels on the bus” at the dinner table. In our sweet little nest, it seemed like an ordinary evening.

Zora-you showed off your cooing and kicking on the baby gym.

Felix-you splashed in the tub and practiced counting to 14.

We shared a few family hugs at Felix’s request.

Then, as we turned out the lights, I sang our usual night night songs.

We honored all of our family traditions at home and it seemed like any ordinary Monday. But, my darlings, inside- my heart was aching.

Because last night, other families were trying to have an ordinary evening of singing songs together and sharing food at a country music concert – but a gunman opened fire and hundreds were wounded, dozens lost their lives.

It feels like the ordinary has become unsafe in this broken world.

How can I let you go to school tomorrow? How can I let you out of my sight?

How can I sleep knowing other mothers, just like me, lost their children last night?

How can I rest when it seems the news is always reminding me to be afraid, to shield you from the outside world, to keep you all to myself – which is the only way to be sure you will never see terror like our country saw last night in Las Vegas?

But then, I remember the wonder that lives in your eyes.

You both carry such courage and such hope in your bright faces. You long to learn and grow. You have an openness to the world.

My job as your mom is to foster that courage. Because you, my dears, will be the change I wish to see in the world.

I promise you I will do my part as you are growing up.

I will vote for smart gun laws and I will pray for peace that passes all understanding. I will teach you to be leaders and bridgebuilders.

I will cling tightly to the good in the world, and I will make sure you have eyes to see it too.

On a night like tonight, as our community grieves the violence and terror we saw in Las Vegas, you remind me to help. You remind me to advocate for change.

I wish I could take away the threats of the world. I wish I could stop these horrible events from happening. But even though I can’t wipe away this sorrow and tragedy, being your mom reminds me that I’m obligated to do something.

So tomorrow, we will all get up and go to work and to school.

We will all show kindness to our neighbors and compassion to those who are different than us.

We will show patience and understanding when conflict arises, and we will offer forgiveness and gentleness in the midst of frustration.

This is how we shine a light when the darkness comes. This is what we can do in our own little neighborhood. This is how we stop fear from winning.

Tomorrow, we begin again. One step at a time, one spark of goodness in the world that needs it so desperately.

May it begin with us,

Love, Mom

 

 

 

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Finishing the Forty Bag Challenge

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There it is.

The last trunkful of my Lenten purge. I had to go back to the places I’d already cleaned out to get here.

The last 6 bags and big items came from one more tour of the kitchen cupboards, one more look in my closet, one more scan of our son’s toys- and more.

One this Holy Saturday- I drove the trunkful of items to a donation center, and unloaded every last bag.

We still live with abundance. Truthfully- some of our closets and drawers are still cluttered. I encountered belongs that we don’t use that I still couldn’t part with.

This Lenten journey was a starting gesture in a life’s worth of work. I hope to continue to look through our home while asking the question- what do we really need? And what could bless others?

As Easter comes tomorrow- I look forward to experiencing the renewing hope of this holiday- the reminder to us all that in the end: the tomb, the rock, and the burial cloth were all left behind. It’s the call to love, the urgency to hope and the challenge of living by faith that we take with us. Happy Easter.

Habitat for Humanity: Donations that Change Communities

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I remember the first Habitat for Humanity home I worked on in high school. It was a hot day, and I felt tired in the first hour of painting and nailing siding… I took too many water breaks trying to rest. At the time, I could only think of my own discomfort as I trudged through the long day of physical labor with my classmates.

But in the 18 years since, I’ve participated in 10 other house building projects- and with each Habitat for Humanity Home I helped build, my appreciation and admiration for the work of this organization grew.

I love that the homeowners work beside us to build their own houses.

I love that Habitat for Humanity educates the homeowners on basic home repair skills.

I love that Habitat for Humanity partners with organizations like Financial Peace University to teach homeowners about financial responsibility and living within our means.

I love that Habitat for Humanity can offer interest free loans on these houses so that more and more families can plant roots and experience stable housing conditions.

I remember the Saturdays I spent building alongside homeowner Tracy this fall. As I got to know her, I started to imagine her son Zayden running down the hallway and decorating his own room once they moved in. At the home dedication ceremony- I watched as Tracy’s 3 year old son Zayden befriended my son Felix. The two boys took turns playing with a balloon and weaving in and out of the legs of all the Habitat for Humanity partners and builders that joined together to celebrate Tracy and Zayden’s new nest.

Habitat for Humanity has been such a meaningful organization in my life- teaching me about how to truly be a neighbor to others. Habitat taught me how to collaborate and how to drywall, as well as how to watch a community rise up.

This week, instead of bags in my Lenten purge, I called the Habitat Restore. They came to my home and picked up a variety of old doors, tables and housewares that we do not need. These items will be sold in their Restore and the funds with help more families like Tracy and Zayden become homeowners. The funds will also help more people like me open their eyes to the opportunities we all have participate in the building up of our neighborhoods and communities. What a blessing.

The Real Stuff: Lent Purge Week 3

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This is the real stuff.

This week, I turned to my own closet for my Lenten purge.

This week, it’s not about offering cloth diapers to a mom less fortunate, or donating food to a food pantry. No, it’s far less glamorous.

I had to strip away the illusion of ministry or generosity and ask myself to let go.

I knew one week in Lent I would turn to my own belongings. I had a pile of clothes covered in paint from the Habitat build that I looked forward to purging. My husband bought me a new pair of sneakers for Christmas so I expected to ditch the older pair. But that doesn’t fill 6 bags, and it doesn’t address what needs to be cleared out.

My closet and my dresser overflow. I have too many clothes. It should have been easy to fill 6 bags, and I should be able to fill 6 more.

But as I tried to purge- here are some of the issues that came up:

-I spent too much money on that to let it go

-I like owning clothes in that size, even I never wear it

-I want to fit into that again some day

-Maybe I won’t have a tummy in the future- I should wait to see

-This is trendy, and I want to be trendy, even if I haven’t ever worn it

-I still want to be the type of girl who wears stilettos, even if I haven’t in 3 years… I can’t let them go

Yes, I happen to be 5 months pregnant. So perhaps now is a good time to wait and see what I can and will wear in a few months.

But the clothes in question go way back. It’s not pre-pregnancy wardrobe, it’s 2010 items that are difficult to eliminate. The year I got married, and went to the gym 6 days a week… the years I spent in graduate school following the trends of the big city… it’s the years of carrying only a little purse and staying out too late…

Purging my closet means letting go of those chapters, those seasons. It means I no longer carry a small purse: instead, it’s a diaper bag and a 25 pound child. It means I need to wear shoes that balance me as I drag an infant car seat and an antsy toddler. It means I need clothes that honor my experience as a woman who’s stretched to carry two children, who has relaxed into a routine of cooking at home with her husband instead of running around town. It means I need to let go of the relics that remind me of a different time and a different era of this long, beautiful life.

It’s not about the heroic act of donating under-used items. As I turn to my own closet, bags #11-16 in this Lenten purge must be filled with all that I must let go: lingering pride, subtle shame, distant longing, and more…

I filled 6 bags, but I did not finish the work of letting go.

Don’t get me wrong- this chapter of my life is joyful- perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling chapter yet. I find myself regularly saying to my husband: “these are the happiest moments of my whole life!”

And there will be future chapters that will likely include more tiny purses and nights on the town, more afternoons at the gym instead of the Children’s museum. But I don’t need to store up supplies for those chapters. Instead, in this Lenten season, I am trying to remember to live in the now.

Another week, another 6 bags, and another opportunity to ask the question: what do I need, and what do I need to let go?

Excerpt From the Installation Sermon Preached by Johnny Wray (Shaped Through Mentors)

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On March 2nd, my long time mentor and friend and one of my idols- the Reverend Johnny Wray- preached my    installation service at Community Christian Church. All 1600 words were carefully crafted and preached- but this is part of his message. Every time I re-read his sermon, I am reminded of the importance of mentors that have gone ahead of us and paved a way for us to follow.

 

 

 

 

Preached March 2, 2014 by the Reverend Johnny Wray

The word “install”… comes from an Old French word (estaler) – meaning to place, to set up, to position, to establish. And that is precisely what pastors are called to do — getting things in place and making the space for the Spirit of God to move and to work; and preparing, setting up, positioning the congregation to hear and to heed the words of Jesus.

For example, Sarah, I’m thinking of: the children in the congregation-and the responsibility you have, as their pastor, as the installer of faith in them. To nurture them in the love of God, to teach them the stories of Jesus and the ways of Jesus, to instill in them a deep appreciation for Holy Communion and all the traditions and practices of the church, to provide a safe place for them to share their stories, their joys and sorrows, to welcome them as a child of God. You are an installer of faith.

There are also folks here who draw every breath in pain – may be the physical pain of illness, of the parental pain of watching one’s child suffer, or the emotional pain of loss – the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent, any beloved… And as their pastor – you are called to install comfort – to hold the hand at the bedside, to wipe the tear at the graveside, to provide a shoulder, a listening ear, a caring heart. An installer of comfort.

There are also folks here who are afraid. We live in fearful times – the world can be a dangerous and dark place. People are afraid – some are afraid of death, some are afraid of life. Some are afraid of change, some afraid of anything different… and you are called to install hope.

You, Sarah, are also called to be an installer of compassion. When we are tempted – as we often are – to withdraw into ourselves, to look out for self first, to neglect, ignore the needs of the neighbor next door, across town, around the world — You are called to install in us, to help us live with the suffering of others — that will include the suffering of others right here in this congregation and in this community. It will also include the suffering of survivors of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and tornadoes in the Midwest and those in our society who’ve fallen out, been left out, cast out. It will include the suffering of victims of civil war in Syria and South Sudan, of hunger in Zimbabwe, of earthquakes in Haiti, of poverty in Bangladesh. You are the reminder of one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus: we find life when we give it away in self-emptying, self-giving love. It is in learning to live with and share the suffering of others that we are able to realize a life of passion, peace and joy.

You are called Sunday after to Sunday to stand in this pulpit, open the scriptures, listen to the world around you, peer into the hearts of these people and install a fresh, relevant word from God; sometimes you’ll need to install justice – when the wrong seems oft so strong, when things must be set right; other times you’ll be called to make the space for a spirit of generosity or a spirit of hospitality; or make the space for a sense of wonder or a touch of humor. . .

But even more — neither is it you and the congregation alone. There can be no service of installation more necessary, more critical than your making that space within your own life and in the life of the congregation to be open to receive the gift of the Spirit.

So Sarah – with your gifts, with the gifts of this congregation, with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – there can be no doubt that the best days of this congregation still lie ahead. Amen.

#ShapedByGod: My Blog in Lent

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Hello faithful readers!

Throughout Lent, I will be exploring a theme of “Shaped by God”. I plan to blog regularly on this theme through pictures, reflections, prayers, and questions. My colleague and friend Rev. Sarah Renfro is partnering with me in this practice. Check out her blog regularly at: http://www.revrenfro.com/sarahs-blog.html. You will be inspired!

My sermon series at Community Christian Church will also follow this theme. If you are in the Canton, Ohio area- join us on Sundays at 10am to hear more. This is my preaching plan:

 

March 9th: Shaped through Tests  –Matthew 4:1-11

March 16th: Shaped through Birth – John 3:1-17

March 23rd: Shaped through Thirst – John 4:5-42

March 30th: Shaped through Vision  –John 9:1-41

April 6th: Shaped through Tears  –John 11:1-45

April 13th: Shaped through Triumph  –Matthew 21:1-11

April 20th: Shaped for Resurrection – John 20:1-18

 Rev. Sarah Renfro and I are trying to create a little buzz about this practice, and we want to invite you to share your own thoughts and reflections on this theme. So- help us spread the word with this hashtag: #ShapedByGod

Blessings and prayers to you in this holy season of reflection and prayer.

Goodbye Y’all (a final sermon for Lindenwood)

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This is it- my last Sunday at Lindenwood- and how could I possibly begin to say goodbye?

 How do you say goodbye well?

  It’s only been 3.5 years, but for me, it’s been my entire life in ministry. My first call, the place where I was ordained, the place where I took risks, where I grew, where I made mistakes, where I learned, where you all gave me the space to explore ministry.

 This is our 170th Sunday together. For 170 Sundays, I have been your pastor, and you have been my congregation.

 I saw this time as a gift, a privilege, a true calling from the holy spirit. I owe you so much of my heart, so much gratitude, so much appreciation.

 And Y’all have taught me so much, and I realize that now as I’m fixing to leave. I came as a Yankee, but you taught me that I might could become a southern belle with a little effort.

 Y’all taught me that even a few drops of cold rain is plenty a reason to close church, the pharmacy, sell out of bread and milk- and spend the whole day at home catching up on Netflix. Thank you.

 Y’all taught me important phrases like y’all, fixing to, might could, bless your heart, getting my picture made, kiss my grits, madder than a wet hen…

 But more than those “Southernisms”, you have taught me to baptize, to keep vigil at the bedside of someone on hospice or at the hospital, you have taught me to pray out loud, you have taught me how to design worship, how to preach, how to climb up onto the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house, how to bless a baby, how to marry a loving couple, how to say farewell to someone in a funeral, how to grieve with a family, and how to love a room full of 400 people more than I thought I ever could…

 This has been a journey of teaching, of loving, of learning, of growing, and most of all- bringing glory to Christ in all that we do. So how do you say goodbye well?

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 That’s how we did it, anyway.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 I remember my first adult goodbye so well. It was a cold spring. My family gathered around the hospital bed keeping vigil, telling stories, sharing memories, listening to music. The food tasted like rubber, the neon lights offered little warmth, but none of that mattered. My family spent the afternoon in the Cheyanne Wyoming Memorial hospital with my grandfather. We were creating a safe, sacred space for him to let go.

 I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

 We all made sure to whisper these words to him that afternoon.

 For some of us, we had no idea what we had to apologize for…

 Well, I had one little thing… I remembered a moment from 10 years before this, when I was an angst-y 8th grader- writing angst-y things in my little journal. I would criticize classmates and critique teachers. And one Thanksgiving, my grandfather accidently picked up this journal and peeked in by mistake.

 I was mortified. I didn’t want him to see me like that. I didn’t want him to see my harsh words written down.

 10 years later, gathered around his hospital bed- we had shared so many more memories and inspiring conversations and family Thanksgivings- I doubt he ever remembered my 13-year-old girl journal- but it didn’t matter- I whispered: I’m sorry.

 Many of us in the family didn’t know what we meant exactly with those words “I forgive you.” But just like ‘I’m sorry,’ they needed to be said. Maybe my grandfather experienced his own private angst for not showing up for some odd ballet performance, or not writing the perfect Christmas card, or….

 Whatever could have been troubling him, we wanted to release it- so we all whispered “I forgive you.”

 And finally, we all said “I love you.” Over and over again, we said “I love you.”

 We did this because it was time to say goodbye, it was time to make sure that our adoration and respect was understood, and believed, and communicated.

 In those final hours, we listened to sacred music. Alleluias and Praise to the Lord’s rang out. I remember when one of my favorite songs began to play in that hospital room as we all gathered. It was an arrangement of a beautiful sacred spiritual by Moses Hogan:

Lord I want to be more Holy, in my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

In my heart, in my heart,

Lord I want to be more Holy in my heart.

I sang along as the song played. It was like the anthem for all of us. I remember singing that song so clearly because that afternoon, as we said goodbye to my grandfather, it was a holy moment, a sacred, peaceful, holy goodbye.

And then I look out at all of you here today, and it almost feels the same.

When I think back to that song: Lord I want to be more holy, in my heart, in my heart, Lord I want to be more holy in my heart…

It reminds me that this was our biggest task together at Lindenwood. We all had the privilege and the honor of seeking holiness together, of trying to be more faithful, more loving, more compassionate and gospel-oriented together.

In the same way that we gathered that afternoon in the hospital room, we are all here today to say a goodbye.

I chose Paul’s letter to the Philippians for this morning, partly because it is a scripture for the 2nd week of Advent (well, last year anyway), but mostly because I couldn’t have composed a better letter myself. Our brother Paul wrote this letter generations ago, but I wanted to borrow his words and recite them to all of you today:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 Theologians agree Paul’s letter to the Philippians was a friendship letter- it expresses the deep love and connection between Paul and this community. This letter is sustained and rooted in their shared memories- Paul recalls with joy all that they have shared together and endured together.

Paul has 4 main points throughout the letter to the Philippians:

1)      he expresses gratitude that they have shared the gospel together;

2)      he expresses his love for this community;

3)      he tells them he hopes their love will overflow;

4)      and finally, he tells them he hopes they will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

This letter holds the longest expression of thanksgiving and love to any community that Paul writes to. There is a special intimacy and love reflected in this letter that goes beyond any of his other writings. The church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe, and Paul has a particular connection and respect for this church, because it’s where he felt he did some of his best work.

He writes to them knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their good ministry, instead, he says, he will pray for the church until the day of Christ arrives.

Today, I can relate Paul’s situation and sentiment in this letter. I want to share a message of friendship with each of you because of our deep love and connection that is sustained and rooted in shared memories and joy. I want to express the same message Paul writes:

1)      my gratitude that we have shared the gospel together;

2)      my love for this community;

3)      my hope that your love will overflow;

4)      and finally, my hope that you will discern what is truly valuable and good. 

And, just like the church in Philippi was one of the first churches in Europe for Paul, you, Lindenwood, are my first church. Because of this, there is a special intimacy and love from me, for you.

Finally, Paul writes knowing that he will not be with the church in Philippi for the duration of their ministry- and I will not be with you all as you do your best ministry ahead.

So how can we say goodbye?

Let me say to you the goodbye I learned at the bedside of someone I loved: I’m sorry, I forgive you, I love you.

I am sure there are those here who I offended, or hurt, or disappointed, or worse. But today, as we go our separate ways, it feels vitally important and appropriate for me to say: whatever has been said or left unsaid that caused upset: I am sorry.

And, I forgive you. Just like ‘I’m sorry,’ these words need to be said.  I leave with no grudges or unresolved relationships. I am sure there are those here who think we might have had a past concern, or issue, or conflict. Whatever could be troubling you, I want to release it- so believe me when I say “I forgive you.”

 And finally, the most important message of all: I love you. I do. I love this entire church for all my relationships, my memories, my joy, my laughter, all that we have shared, all that we created, all that we witnessed together.

Lindenwood, on this final Sunday, may this be my lasting word of good news: we can say goodbye well. Even the apostles and prophets before all of us knew how to depart well. And this is an opportunity for us to do the same. I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you.

  And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Amen.

A Birthday Wish

Hello Faithful readers,

At midnight- I become 31. My wish this birthday is that we build a new home for a Memphis family in need- or at least- we would start.

If you wanted to get me a card- save the $3 and buy a few shingles and nails for a Habitat House. If you hoped we’d go out for a meal or a coffee or a glass of wine to celebrate- instead- consider buying a window for our fall build.

Even if we wouldn’t normally celebrate together- consider buying a piece of a Habitat house for someone you love this summer-it’s a gift that will make a lasting difference.

All contributions should be made out to Lindenwood Christian Church with ‘Habitat for Humanity’ in the memo line.

Thank you for considering this request.

Love
Sarah

Items we need:

8,000 Nails: $.50 each
700 Shingles: $1.00 each
20 Plants & Shrubs: $5.00 each
10 Pallets of Sod: $10.00 each
20 Gallons of Paint: $10.00 each
15 Light Fixtures: $15.00 each
2 Toilets: $20.00 each
2 Bathroom Sinks: $20.00 each
10 Interior Doors: $25.00 each
30 Pallets of Lumber: $30.00 each
Kitchen Sink: $35.00
Kitchen Counter Top: $40.00
2 Bathroom Cabinets: $40.00 each
6 Windows: $50.00 each
3 Exterior Doors: $50.00 each
Pallets of Sheet Rock: $60.00 each
2 Bath Tubs: $75.00 each
10 Pallets of Siding: $75.00 each
Refrigerator: $100.00
Washer: $100.00
Dryer: $100.00
Stove: $100.00
Kitchen Cabinets: $150.00
Vinyl Flooring: $200.00
Carpet: $250.00
HVAC: $500.00

God Created Teachers

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Invocation Prayer Offered at Memphis City Adopt-a-School luncheon, May 1, 2013

Loving God, we know that long, long ago- you created the teacher, and you said that she was very good.
You would send her out to shepherd the next generation of singers, dancers, artists, doctors and lawyers. You would send her out to plant seeds of wisdom and creativity and inspiration.
You would send the teacher out to bring transformation to every nation. But God, we know that you are faithful, and you promised that teacher that she would not do it alone.
You surrounded the teacher with strong administrators and strong principals and willing staff.
You gave her visions of partnerships, support teams and sponsors. You promised the teacher: collaboration.
We come together today, gracious God, to thank you for that promise you made to teachers everywhere.
We thank you for calling each of us to this partnership.
Give us all strength and endurance. Give us clear vision and innovation.
Help us continue to build bridges between the teacher and the community. May we all find inspiration through this gathering for the good work ahead. Amen.

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