Sunday, August 10, 2014

what we can learn from Peter and a fellow by the name of John Wesley

To follow is this morning's sermon - using the lectionary reading from the day with a good dose of John Wesley's early life, I invite us to consider what it means to get out of the boat in our faith journey.

(please forgive the punctuation and grammatical errors - this is my sermon manuscript)

Matthew 14:22-33:

22 Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. 23 When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. 24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed.

27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”

29 And Jesus said, “Come.”

Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!”

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.

33 Then those in the boat worshipped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”


******

At the age of 32, having completed a couple of years of teaching Greek at Oxford college and knowing that he wasn’t suited for traditional parish ministry like his father, John Wesley volunteered to be a missionary to the colonies. He felt like God had called him to bring the Word of God to the settlers and the savages who lived along the new frontier. 
A young John Wesley

Crossing the ocean in 1735, long before satellites, an understanding of the weather and first class cabins, was not an easy voyage…it would take more than 3 months for John and his brother Charles, on the tiny wooden ship to cross to the Province of Georgia, where John was to be a missionary to Savannah and Charles would serve as assistant to James Oglethorpe, who had established the colony of Georgia in 1733.

The Wesley brothers had the very best education possible in their day, like their father they were ordained priests in the Anglican Church – they wrote and spoke numerous languages including Greek and Latin, they also took serious holiness of heart and life – that whole living like Jesus lived and taught, they really believed it – this is something that many of the Anglican priests of the day didn’t do. For John and Charles serving God was their life – they studied scripture, they visited those in prison, they cared for the hungry and poor, they went without so that they could give all they had away.

And yet, John would admit, that he did this as much out of fear as out of any other emotion – he worked tirelessly to please God….but did he know a loving, merciful compassionate God at the young age of 32… Oh, and one more thing - he was afraid of dying because he really was not sure what would happen when he met Christ face to face…

Going to the new world satisfied this longing to do something that mattered, he wanted to be a man of significance, but he wasn’t quite sure what this would look like.

On board the ship – Wesley and Charles had a regular schedule…its enough to make your head spin… Wesley wrote in his journal:

Tuesday, October 21.—We sailed from Gravesend. When we were past about half the Goodwin Sands, the wind suddenly failed. Had the calm continued till ebb, the ship had probably been lost. But the gale sprang up again in an hour, and carried us into the Downs.

We now began to be a little regular. Our common way of living was this: From four in the morning till five each of us used private prayer. From five to seven we read the Bible together, carefully comparing it (that we might not lean to our own understandings) with the writings of the earliest ages. At seven we breakfasted. At eight were the public prayers.

From nine to twelve I usually learned German, and Mr. Delamotte, Greek. My brother wrote sermons, and Mr. Ingham instructed the children. At twelve we met to give an account of one another what we had done since our last meeting, and what we designed to do before our next. About one we dined.


The afternoon and evening continued in this manner. and you wonder why they were called – Methodists?

The only thing to change their schedule was when a storm blew up…
Robert Salmon:  Storm at Sea

Saturday, January 17.—Many people were very impatient at the contrary wind. At seven in the
evening they were quieted by a storm. It rose higher and higher till nine. About nine the sea broke over us from stem to stern; burst through the windows of the state cabin, where three or four of us were, and covered us all over, though a bureau sheltered me from the main shock. About eleven I lay down in the great cabin and in a short time fell asleep, though very uncertain whether I should wake alive and much ashamed of my unwillingness to die. Oh, how pure in heart must he be, who would rejoice to appear before God at a moment’s warning! Toward morning, “He rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm” (quoting from the Gospel of Matthew 8:26)


You can see how John, this well educated and proper theologian was a mess – not only because he was afraid, but because he understood deep in his heart that he shouldn’t be afraid, and yet, he couldn’t see any other way of being.

On Sunday, January 25 John writes:

At noon our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before.  At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their  behavior….In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterward, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die”

How is it that this small group of immigrants who were traveling to the new world to start a new life for their families – were able to calmly singing praise songs and reading scripture? – not just the leaders, every last one of them!

I want some of that, Wesley thought to himself… how could they be so calm?

When they finally landed in Savannah in February, 1736, John’s quest for ‘some of that’ continued – Wesley’s time in Savannah did not end well, he actually left under the dark of night for refusing to serve communion to an on again off again girl friend and her new husband – poor John.

On the way back to England he wrote the following…

"I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, 'To die is gain!'

John Wesley’s spiritual wrestling would continue for another 6 months or so – until his heart was strangely warmed during a Bible study with some Moravians on Aldersgate Street.

It was after this that John was pushed and pulled out of the metaphorical boat – to take up preaching outside of the confines of the ordinary church buildings – an occasion that he called most vile - and yet it was in doing so that he began to have a passion to preach and teach the least and the lost, the poor and the down trodden all over England. His brother Charles returned to England and joined him in this venture – and within 50 years the Methodist movement, a movement based on 6 to12 spiritual friends gathering together for prayer and support of one another - was thriving – all over the British Isles and across the new world as well.

6 to 12 spiritual friends – to walk alongside each other, to encourage one another, to hold another accountable in Christian love. To turn to in good times as well as bad, to be willing to open up ones heart to call the other into account….

This is in our DNA, friends…as Christ followers and as members of the United Methodist Church. I believe that the United Methodist church as we know it will die, unless we begin to be more intentional about being in relationship and community with one another – forming groups of fellowship, study and accountability – just as Jesus did with his disciples…

It was because of his relationship with his brother Charles, George Whitfield, Moravian missionary Peter Bohler and others that John Wesley was able to face his greatest fear – a lonely death and a life with out meaning – and stepped out of the boat.

As I think about Jesus – and this morning’s scripture lesson I can’t help but think about the other 11 disciples – we make fun of Peter some times, for being brash, and pushy and yet – here he is willing to step out of the boat…

The other 11…not so much…why do you think they were too afraid to get out of the boat…was it fear of seeing Jesus as one who could command the very sea? Walking across the water was an act of power and strength – surely he IS the Son of God they thought when they realized it was Jesus coming their way. Maybe it was the wind or the rain or perhaps their own self-centeredness that made them deaf in the moment, unable to fathom let alone hear God’s call and claim on their lives…they were unwilling to take a risk for the Master’s sake.

So what’s the point of these two stories?

Well – what about it, church? Are we like Peter – willing to stand up and take a step out in the churning waters, willing to risk failure for our love of God, our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? or do we prefer to throw a tarp over our heads and wait out the storm?

Remember most of the disciples were fisherman –  they weren’t afraid of the storm – they were afraid of the miraculous appearance of Jesus!   Look again at Matthew 14:

24 Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. 25 Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. 27 Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Are we going to live a life of fear, wrapped up in our own individual insecurities or are we going to take a step in faith, and commit to walk with one another as disciples of Jesus?

Twentieth-century Presbyterian theologian and writer Frederick Buechner writes, 

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.”

Its here…waiting for you…a meaningful relationship with God through faith in Christ, this is possible by being in unity and community with people who care about you – and will support you as your life blossoms with hope and encouragement, leading to a future with meaning…

Are you ready to step out of the boat?  If so, let's talk about how you can take next step to be a part of a small group here at Trinity UMC.

Remember – Jesus is here saying the same thing to us as that did to his first 12 disciples…

“Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”  

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.



Saturday, May 31, 2014

whatcha gonna do?

Since last summer when Ethan  participated in Running from Malaria, my younger son Justin has been brainstorming ideas to raise money for Imagine No Malaria.  A few weeks ago when he asked if he could color his hair, I said - only if you're doing it for a good cause.  So, we agreed that he could color it blue, for $500 in contributions to Imagine No Malaria.

'Great idea,' I said.  'But what if folks donate $1000?'  'Well,' he responded, 'I guess I'll have to dye it pink!'

Well....here you go...$1036 in donations.  Wow!  Thank you Trinity United Methodist Church!

And while this may seem silly, consider that because of the generosity of this one community of faith, 100 families half way around the world will receive bed nets...this could save the lives of hundreds of children.  Children who die needlessly from an illness that is both preventable and curable, thanks to those who said yes to eradicating Malaria.

So, thank you, everyone for your support of our young people who say YES to Jesus, and yes to making a difference in the world, even if that means that their hair will be blue, or pink or purple for a few months this summer.  It's a small price to pay.

Well done Justin - and friend Connor - who joined him in coloring his hair this evening in celebration of the $1000+ donation!  So very proud of you both!

Be on the look out next week at the Iowa Annual Conference...Justin will be there as a diakonos and he has some more great ideas to help push us over the 2 million dollar mark!




Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pinked!

Recently I ‘pinked’ a load of laundry.  You know what I’m talking about…when a random item of clothing (in this case a red t-shirt) bleeds all over the clothes in the washer.  In my haste to clean up the laundry room I neglected to pull all of the lights from darks.  To top it all off the t-shirt had never been washed.  Ugh!


I pulled out the dark colored clothes and tossed them in the dryer then I tried to lighten the affects of ‘pinking’ by using a Rit Dye remover and washing everything in hot water. I couldn’t wait for the load to get finished so I could see how I did.  Sigh.  No change.  So I washed the load yet again, this time with a heavy dose of bleach.  You guessed it; everything is still a lovely shade of pink.

I have wracked my brain trying to figure out a way to reverse the stain, but at some point I am going to have to make peace with the fact that I now have one less tablecloth and one of the boys has a ruined dress shirt.

I hate it.  I am angry with myself.  But eventually I need to toss the pink load of wash in the dryer and move on.  I will also need to find a way to forgive myself.

How many of us have made mistakes in life that we are still wearing - like an unnaturally pinked shirt?  How many of us keep fighting the same battles, searching for answers in all the wrong places?  Trying to erase all signs of our mistakes is human, but it isn’t spiritually healthy.

We have all fallen short.  We have all sinned.  It is likely that we will sin again.  This is part and parcel with being human.  However, we have the opportunity, dare I say the responsibility, to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them.  AND we desperately need to forgive ourselves so that we can move forward. 

I believe the number one spiritual ailment in the 21st Century is the burden the people carry around because they can’t or won’t accept God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness.

Jesus knew about these sorts of burdens, many are self imposed because good people think that they have to beat themselves up to begin to make reparations to God for their sinful ways. I think this may be why so many people have dropped out of church, because it can all become so exhausting.  But God’s grace doesn’t work this way.  The Good News is that Jesus offers an alternative vision; a new way of living that speaks to the basic needs of each and every one of us:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  
(The words of Jesus, Matthew 11:27-29  The Message)

The unforced rhythms of grace include prayer, worship, participating in acts of justice and mercy (service to others) and other spiritual practices that bring us into an awareness of our loving God.   

During this Easter season let's celebrate the ways that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after that first resurrection morning.  We are also invited to celebrate the ways that God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness are extended to us, each and every day!  Even when, especially when, we mess up.

Peace to you and yours,
Deborah


Friday, April 11, 2014

Bad Friday? Be Encouraged...

Justin - today
To follow is my latest article for the local, Waverly, newspaper.  Special thanks to Justin, my 15 year old, who gave me permission to tell the story of: Bad Friday.

In our house, the Friday before Easter isn't called Good Friday – in our house, it’s Bad Friday.  
Seven years ago, I was a seminary student serving Apple River United Methodist Church near Galena, Illinois.  Our youngest, Justin, was playing tag in the park when a friend threw a stick at him that tore open the side of his mouth.  I heard his screams and raced to find my 8-year-old son.  We met on the front steps, and he was bloodied and tears were streaming down his face.
We drove the 6 miles to Doc Cleary’s office in record time, but he said there wasn't anything he could do other than numb him up and send us on to a plastic surgeon 30 some miles away.  
Justin's one request was that he be put to sleep while the doctor stitched him up, but the doctor explained he couldn’t do so in his office. Justin agreed to stay awake.  We cried silently through the 45 minutes and over 30 stitches it took to put his mouth and cheek back together.  
We returned home exhausted.  It was then that I thought about the community Good Friday service.  I had just spent the day with MY son, MY precious son as he bled and screamed out in pain.  I didn’t think I could keep it together enough to talk about another mother bearing witness to the brutal torture and crucifixion of her precious son, Jesus.
The congregation was very understanding as I stayed home.  The next day, I struggled to make sense of it all as I put the finishing touches on my Easter sermon.  The words that had brought joy and hope to me in the past rang hollow.  Justin would be scarred for life because of this, he was unable to eat, his face was swollen and he still cried out in pain. How is this fair?
Somehow, by the grace of God, we made it through the Easter Sunday Service.  
As I tried to focus on the work that I had ahead of me, I realized that I was in a deep funk.  I emailed my professors to request an extension on some course work.  One of my professors, Dr. Les Longden, then taught me an important lesson.  He wrote back; 'Deb, sometimes we need to spend more time in the tomb.  And that’s ok.'
It would have been within God's power to resurrect Jesus any time after his death on the cross.  But the time spent in the tomb was not in vain.  It was the Sabbath, the 7th day of creation, the day of rest.  Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday signified the ushering in of the New Creation.  Because of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we are all new creations!
Some of us are ready to embrace this gift now.  Some of us need some more time in the tomb before we are able to say with peace, hope, and joy - Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen, indeed!   
Until then, time in the tomb is not wasted time - it is time to work things out by the grace of God.  Regardless of our Bad Fridays (or Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays…) Jesus promises to always, always, always be with us.  Always.
As we approach Holy Week it is my prayer that you are richly blessed by the worship experiences that are offered in our various faith communities.  I hope that you will lean into the telling of the story, our Story; that unfolds from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and triumphantly Easter Sunday morning.   
And if you need some more time in the tomb I pray that you don't try to go it alone...I pray that you have a brother or sister in Christ to be present with you to remind you that God is ALWAYS present even on bad Friday.  
“I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (The words of Jesus. John 16:33)


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

for real now?

The 'Pixie' Kindergarten
When I was a little girl I always had very straight hair, and I always wore it down.  I remember once traveling with my family in the station wagon and my mom putting it up in spit curls, literally...but seldom did I do anything fancy.  Unlike my daughters, who wore their hair in pony tails much of their teenage years, I went for a more simple wash and go look.

1985 perm
For high school graduation I braided my hair in lots of little braids and then let it out for the big event.  It was quite poofy!  I am so glad that was before Facebook!  Once I was in college I went from long to short to long again and then I got it permed!  Gotta love the 80's, though I never did the really big hair thing.  Through the years I have continued to zig zag with various changes in color, length and style.

In December I tried a perm again, for the first time in over 20 years - and I love it!  I have also grown my hair out and I wear it up in a french twist several days a week.  For the first time I am enjoying styling my hair.  I must be a slow learner.

Today this headline made me wonder what is going on in the world?!!???

Say what?  I mean really...what college student would really and truly get his hair cut like this guy - except under duress?  Sigh...I know this sounds trivial, but I wonder why this world leader would even want to force young men to copy his look?  What's interesting is that the North Korean government would care at all about hair styles. The article, from the BBC states; "until now people were reportedly only allowed to choose from 18 styles for women and 10 for men. Earlier, North Korea's state TV launched a campaign against long hair, called "Let us trim our hair in accordance with the Socialist lifestyle"."

Oh my!

When we get right down to it what is required of us?  Of a people who live together a in society so that it can function well?

As Christians we are called to follow the words of Jesus: 'Love God, Love one Another.'  Another guiding passage for Judeo-Christians is Micah 6:8: 'He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.'

As Americans, I wonder could such a thing happen to us?  I like to think not, we have this whole independent streak in us...but somewhere in between are folks trying to figure out a balance between conformity and individuality and that includes how we present ourselves to others.
perm 2014

I guess the best we can hope for is acceptance of who we are, as beloved children of God, and acceptance of others who are likewise created in God's image.  Even Kim Jong-un.  I just wonder what's going to happen when he changes his mind and decides to go for a new look?

peace,
Deborah






Friday, February 21, 2014

In print, for the first time

I am a broadcast media gal...first radio and then television.  It's how I made a living from the time I was 17 until 42...(my goodness, that's a long time).

This week I was asked to provide a column for the Waverly newspaper.  Here is the text of my very first article, for those of you who live outside of Bremer County.  The editor calls my column "Wise words," oh my!

********
I like fruit.  I especially enjoy oranges,  but the truth is I don’t eat oranges as often as I could because, well…this is a bit embarrassing, but eating an orange is messy. There’s the peeling, juice gets all over the place, and have you ever noticed how hard it is to eat an orange gracefully? On the other hand, a handful of pretzels or cheese and crackers is pretty easy. No muss. No fuss.
When it comes to nutritional value there are big differences between fruit and carb-laden snacks.  I suppose I could guilt myself into eating more fruit, but like many Americans I usually opt for anything that’s fast and easy.
It’s pretty silly, when you think about it, worrying about messiness over expediency when my health and well- being is dependent on a balanced diet of good food. 
Relationships are sort of like this too. There are easy ones, with family and close friends - they are affirming, and seem to go together like cheese and crackers. Then there are acquaintances, the kinds of relationships that we can take or leave, but still have a high comfort level. And then there are relationships that take effort – they  are like oranges. They can sometimes be messy but IF we are willing to go all in we are often blessed by the new discoveries that we make about others as well as ourselves.
As a Christ follower it’s a whole lot easier to hang out with church people.  But in reality there are many people in Waverly who think that church is “messy”. For some reason we church folk haven’t been as kind or compassionate or accepting as we could have been over the years and we have, sadly, given our God, and the Church, a bad reputation.
Now this is reversible - most difficult situations are, but it takes hard work.  It takes vulnerability, it takes courage and it takes those of us who have been comfortable in our churches to take the first step. Yes, I know we have our beloved Church buildings ready and waiting for folks to come and taste and see that this whole faith journey is actually a pretty cool thing. But the truth of the matter is that we are a bit intimidating. Our music is different, we stand up sometimes and sit down others. We even have preachers (like yours truly) who invite people to say Amen!  What’s up with that?
And so, friends and Christ followers, we have to step outside of OUR comfort zones and put forward a new face around Church. When you stop to think about it, this really is the coolest thing about being a follower of Jesus, that He trusts us, fragile and goofy and sometimes messy as we are, to go out into the world and represent Him. 
In our places of work, at our times of play, in our meetings and on our neighborhood playgrounds, people who aren’t sure about Jesus learn about Him by watching us. What if each of us were to get out there and take the next step; introduce yourself, start a new friendship, risk the messiness of meeting someone who stretches us beyond our comfort zone and see what happens. When we step out in faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit is alongside us God is glorified and the kingdom of Heaven will draw nearer.  And that’s what the faith journey is all about!
“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:13-16)


in Christ, together,
Deborah 

Monday, February 3, 2014

beloved child of God...first and foremost

I was reflecting this morning about my faith journey and in particular, my earliest memories of church.  I realized that there are many details that I just don't remember, but...there are some wonderful things that did stick and have shaped me into the person I am today.  One of the most important lessons is one that I am still leaning in to, that first and foremost I am a beloved child of God...and so are you!
Hershey United Methodist Church

My first memory of church was Hershey Methodist on Cocoa Avenue in Hershey, Pa.  I was 2 when we moved to the
family farm, and my mom insisted on going somewhere other than my grandparent's church, in neighboring Elizabethtown.

When I visited Hershey a few summers ago, I was curious to see the church and since the doors were unlocked I drug my kids inside. I found that I didn't really remember much about the sanctuary, it was smaller and darker than I recalled, but my very first lesson about church and God didn't happen in worship, it happened in the Sunday school class room.

I remember sitting around a big round table with other children.  We were asked to find a seat and get  ready for a treat.  Then, the teacher poured a whole box of Cheerios in the middle of the table.  The whole box!  I also remember we were given little cups of apple juice.  To this day I prefer my Cheerios dry, with a cup of cold apple juice on the side.

God = Abundance!  Poured out!  Overflowing!  Have as much of me as you like, God seemed to be saying to the three year old me.

I know we attended church most Sundays but the only other thing that I can remember is my mom sitting up front in the station wagon wearing a hat, it was the 60s and early 70s after all.  We moved from Pennsylvania to rural Galesburg, Illinois when I was 12.

My most vivid memory of Sunday mornings in Illinois is when we didn't go to church and instead listened to Bill Cosby records.  His Noah's Ark story seemed to suffice for a sermon.  My only experience of youth group was there in Illinois, I can't even tell you which church we attended but I remember going to a youth weekend retreat and feeling the love of God as palatable and vast as the stars in the sky.  (My other memory of church in Illinois is the breaking of my younger brother Mark's collar bone during a boisterous game in the Fellowship Hall.  I can neither confirm nor deny if I was the one who fell on him...I think I was pushed.)
I still have my 1976 BoD!

When we moved to Tennessee in the middle of 10th grade, my parents decided that it was time for me to be confirmed.  It was my sister and the preacher and me - and the 1976 Book of Discipline.  Then, just like that, I was a member of the church.  When the pastor heard I had an interest in radio I became the weekly scripture reader.  No youth group, but a wonderful sense of community there in Morris Chapel, Tennessee.  Young and old alike would gather for softball games in the summer...we had a great time.  I still think multi-generational activities are essential for the health of a church.

When I went off to college I must admit that I never stepped foot in a Wesley Foundation.  For about 10 years I went to church when I went home to visit, but that was about it.  During this time my family moved to Iowa where they've remained for over 30 years.

When I started my own family and found myself the step-mother of a 14 year old boy we were living in the suburbs of Atlanta and I felt ill equipped to parent a teen so I sought out a church, joining a Sunday School class with a group of 'older' adults - folks who were also parenting teens, and this is where I really learned about the Bible and the Church.  (For instance - I had no idea that Jesus was God until my mid-20s...I'm sure someone somewhere in our many moves covered this - but what a revelation!)

Haralson UMC, Haralson, GA
Later, when we moved to an acreage south of Atlanta I felt drawn back to the country church, and it is there where I learned that the greatest commandment: loving God and ones neighbors can be lived out by being open to everyone's journey, caring for your neighbor, especially those who don't go to church, and trusting in God's provision.  The folks at Haralson UMC were missional before missional was cool.

But I didn't realize how much I was LOVED by God until we moved to Colorado and I attended the Walk to Emmaus (in my parents community in Iowa.  How we got to Colorado is a long story, just roll with it).  The unconditional love I experienced that weekend was eye opening and revealed a deeper truth, that God's love is not earned - it is a gift, free and boundless, that God is wooing each and every one of us into a deeper relationship with Gods-self and one another and that there is a whole new world available to us - a world steeped in beauty and love and mercy and kindness - if we are open to receiving this as gift - and then, just as important as receiving the gift of love, it is important that we share it with others.

Three years later my family was living in Iowa and thanks to another Walk to Emmaus weekend, where I was a helper, the wheels were put into motion for me to respond to God's call and claim on my life as a United Methodist pastor.

My seminary experience at the University of Dubuque allowed me to have a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven.  Surprise! it isn't all puffy clouds and golden streets.  It was intentional learning and conversations and study groups and messy test days and Koine Greek and struggling with big picture concepts and serving a church and being a mom at the same time.  My seminary experience was real, intense, and the best four years of my life.

Ordination, June, 2009
I graduated in 2007 and was ordained a United Methodist pastor in the Iowa Annual Conference in 2009.  I have been blessed to serve 3 different congregations over the past 11 years.  I am reminded daily of the many blessings that come when one says yes to God.  Has it all been rosy?  Nope.  But it has been and continues to be an amazing ride!

Not everyone lives in 7 different states in 50some years.  Many of my friends and parishioners have lived in the same region of the country their entire lives, and I appreciate the sense of belonging and rootedness that they have as part of a long term member of a community.

That being said, I have tasted and seen and experienced things in my life that have been wonderful and scary and sometimes even mind boggling.  From television marketing and promotions for TV stations to a pulpit in Iowa - who would have imagined? I have borne 4 children and buried a parent and two step-children. I have gone through the pain of divorce and each and every day I continue to seek most earnestly to live into the love of our triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I have no illusions that I will ever get it all figured out, I do however trust a few truths in the midst of it all:
  • God is a God of Abundance - ready to be relished and enjoyed.
  • God is present in the midst of transition, in the joys of life as well as in the midst of sorrow and suffering.
  • We are loved and beloved - unique and gifted individuals...and this means everything.
  • Authenticity is essential, but in this life there are few with whom we feel safe enough to be truly authentic, and this makes me sad.
  • Relationships are essential - each of the memorable events in my faith journey were tied to being in relationship with, journeying alongside, others.  We can not do faith without community.
  • We have to take risks some times but we also have to learn to roll with things...and there is tension in this, rather than getting anxious we need to see this as an opportunity.
  • We can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us...inspire us...equip us along the way.  Thank God!
I trust that God isn't done with me - but I have no idea where I may land next, and I am ok with this too.  Along the way I think it's important to reflect on and share one's faith story.

So, what about you?  Perhaps one of these questions will inspire you to write your own story:

How have you experienced God?
Where have you seen God at work in your life?
How is your love of Christ being shared with others?
When have you had to trust the Holy Spirit in a difficult or challenging time in your life?

I look forward to hearing YOUR story!  Let's visit some time soon.

To God be the glory for the great things He has done, is doing and will do...

in Christ, together,
Deborah