Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Get your Ash (Somewhere).

"Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

Ash Wednesday is upon us. The time each year that is set aside to reflect on the duplicity of our ever present mortality, coupled with the never ending mercies of God. A loving God that grants us safe passage from the ashpit of life to the eternal hope we have in Christ. And so with both deep humility and great hope we receive the ashes that mark the beginning of our 40 day journey (plus Sundays aka little Easters) to the cross, through the grave, and into the glorious light found Resurrection morning.  English please! Ok, you are going to die. Have you stopped for a second to inspect how you are living while you still have the breath of life filling your lungs? 

Why participate in Ash Wednesday? 

By participating in Ash Wednesday, you will begin the Lenten season with a solid commitment made with the strength of the community around you. A strong start makes it more probable you will finish strong!

In between the last of The Tatonut Kingcake donuts, the final parades, and other fun & festive Mardi Gras celebrations, be thinking what you could give up for Lent?

What could you offer? A technology fast? Refrain from eating out as much? Turn the faucet off your running mouth.

But more importantly, ponder what you can "add" to fill the void created by your fast--Start a daily scripture reading practice. Tomorrow I'm starting a @YouVersion plan 'Journeying With Jesus - 40 Days Lent Devotional'. Check it out here---> Click here to join me!  Set a dedicated time to pray? Commit to being in worship each Sunday of Lent? Just can't be there? Join our online worshipping community.  Forgive someone? Gather around your family's table more? Use the money you saved from eating during Lent to start a "Giving Jar."

The entire point of "giving up" something or "adding something" is to make an intentional effort to draw closer to God as we focus on our 40 day journey to Easter morning. 

God is not the one that moves away from us. As we seek to refocus our lives and center our hearts around Christ, God will be found.
Local? Meet me at The Greenhouse on Porter any time from 9 -11 am or at the Ms. Gulf Coast YMCA from 4-6 pm to begin a season of intentional reflection by an outward expression of your inward effort to become more like Jesus. Or participate in our Ash Wednesday Service at 12 noon at St. Paul at our Porter Avenue location or 7 pm at our East Campus location. If not, just get your ash somewhere! Google is a miraculous thing: Ash Wednesday Service near me. Click! ------> Lent Begins.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Wait Three Days

On this day, three years ago, my Mom left this world. Shock. Horror. Deep guttural cries: Do not even begin to communicate the terror we experienced in hearing the news. I can still feel the screams deep down in my bones. 

The Dark Side overcame our sweet DeDe. She poured herself out for others.  Leaving nothing to sustain herself. She fought the good fight until there was simply nothing left to give. God rest her sweet soul.

Last Easter these hauntingly telling pictures popped up on my Time Hop, and I was completely floored. Like breath knocked out of me floored. How did we not SEE this? My sweet Mama looked absolutely miserable. So unsettled. So, doing everything she can to hang on. So overcome. I remember saying something rude that day like, "Mom, can't you just smile!?"

Well, no, she couldn't just smile. She was so low.  So overcome by the darkness.  So sad. So worried.  So rat in a cage. So everything that she just couldn't stand to be in this world not one more breath.

Not one more Easter. Not one more Mother's Day. Not one more grandchild's graduation. No seeing boys turn to men. No throwing bridal showers. No kissing newborn great-grands. Not one more of anything. Mama simply couldn't take one more moment of this world.

Hello, Good Friday! I'm swimming in the sadness of your moment. This dark, shadowy day: Where we recall the suffering of God. The betrayal. The brutality. The abuse. The mocking. The wishing there was some other way. The not being able to take one more moment of this world. 

In this dark hour that literally takes my breath away...I am reminded of the only thing we can do when darkness chokes out all hope: 
Wait. Three. Days. 

And in the waiting remember...
The story is not over.
 Death does not get the last word.
 The grave can't hold Jesus back.
Morning will break. 
Sunday is coming.  

Death can rage and threaten and intimate. But it can't overcome. "Oh death...Where is your sting? Where is your victory?"  You talk a big game, but in the end you are nothing but a punk. 

I will not be moved. Though darkness presses in. And the earth shakes. I can smell death all around. I will wait, and even suffer while I wait, but that doesn't change the outcome:

"Nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wake Up & Be Thankful

This past Sunday I started (again) a practice of “Waking Up and Giving Thanks.”

I also posed the question to our Live @ 11:11 congregation: “How different would your days be if you chose to live a life of gratitude instead of grumbling?” I'm guilty. I grumble.

And so, I've began (again) waking up and thanking God for the gifts I have and trying to orient my day towards “Thanks-living.”

It’s a good discipline.  A simple spiritual practice. Counting your blessings. Counting them one by one. Looking for your wins. The good. Cup half full stuff.

Did you know? Looking for the good is a magical happy pill you swallow deep down into your soul. It’s quite difficult to be in a bad mood when you begin to ponder ALL the gifts you have to be thankful for. If there is breath in your lungs you have something to celebrate.

Consider this your personal invitation to join the Wake Up & Be Thankful Revolution. Waking Up Thankful is actually trending now! Check this hilarious video  released by Forest Hills Church that has gone viral.

When you make a list of all of the things that you are thankful for, it has a way of changing your entire perspective and radically increasing your chances of a happy day.

Here's how it works...

Right when your eyes pop open:
Before you mentally recite your never ending to-do list.
Before you brew a cup of coffee.
Before you (not intentionally) start an argument with your spouse.
Before you step on your scale.
Before you drag your kids out of bed for school.
Before you check: Facebook. Your bank account. Or your favorite GroupMe.
Before you go on a run. Hit the gym. Or get your yoga on.
Before you text your BFF.

Before you do anything: Bring to your mind at least three things you are thankful for on this day.

This simple practice truly is life transforming!

In contrast I can't believe how I was waking up to my grumbly to-do list: a Ruthless Task Master sucking my energy and stealing my joy. The last four days I have had to fight off this ingrained reflex: Before my feet hit the floor I was complaining to myself about how many things I have to do and how I can't possibly get it all done.

It has taken an intentional and concerted effort to stop that negative tape that was playing on auto. It's taking serious Mr. Miyagi focus to change my, "I have to do" list to a "I get to do" list. It's required an even larger, mammoth sized effort to not play the "Get to do" list immediately and just stop for a hot second. Take a deep breath. And name some things

This attitude of thankfulness is now flowing throughout my entire day. It's elevated my mood. It's created an upbeat background to build the days of my life upon. Sure, I have melt downs and grumbly thoughts, but not near as much as prior to this simple intentional practice.

The experts say it takes three weeks to start a habit, and then it takes another three weeks to solidify it. I'm going to attempt to practice "Being Thankful" for six weeks. Hopefully it will become a habit!

How about you join me?

Here's How: When you wake up tomorrow morning (and guess what there's something right there to be thankful for) name three specific things you are grateful for.
By the end of the week write down a minimum of five things in which you were thankful for during the week. Put it in your iPhone notes, get a cutesy Be Thankful Journal, start a Google Doc, post to Facebook (someone in our community is doing this and I LOVE IT!)

Voila! After the sixth week, I am banking on you and I being far happier than today. It's been proven that counting your "wins" will change your attitude which leads to gratefulness which leads to happiness which leads to a more productive and successful life. Let's do this!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How You Can Be Present for Grieving Parents in Their Suffering

Darkness looms heavy. Tears flow from town to town along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are all one big Love for Sophia family. We miss that beautiful, sparkly, spunky, funny, fabulous girl. 

 And what you find at the very center of the Love for Sophia family are two amazing, yet broken, parents who don't deserve this, who are trying to get through the 8 month DIPG nightmare that continues to pour down on them with little to no relief. And we, who are attempting to comfort them, cannot comprehend even a tiny fraction of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Myers family captive. 

Angel and Joshua weep. God weeps. The Love for Sophia Family weeps. 

We all weep. 

 Pastorally, I couldn't let this dark hour go by without doing something. I tried to figure out  "what" I could do, and  so we offered our Live @ 11:11 Services to be a "Hope and Healing" Service. You can check it out here ----> Hope & Healing Service. 

 I don't have the answers to the hard questions that plague us all. What I do have is insight, born through awful, personal tragedy, to give. And so, I will offer what I have, and pray God will take my small basket of bread and fish and multiple it to provide spiritual nourishment to those that are hurting. 

Here is what I offer: A "What Not to Say" List, and a "What to Say/Do" List. My intention is not to hurt anyone. Please don't feel badly if you have already said these things. We ALL have said these things. Just from here out try to be mindful of the Love for Sophia family, and refrain from offering these space fillers. 

DISCLAIMER: I know the temptation. You DON'T know what to say. You feel awful for them. So you just reach back into your "Grieving Parent Files" and grab the first cliche you find.  DON'T DO IT. DON'T SAY DUMB THINGS. I promise standing there and saying nothing just enduring the awkward silence for a moment is better than saying these things...

What Not To Say to Grieving Parents:                                                                                                   1. "The Lord needed another Angel." Please, don't say this. Or any derivative of this: Needed another singer, dancer, etc. Regardless of your personal religious or spiritual persuasions. Trust me. It stings. Try to put yourself in their shoes. If God needed another "angel" then God could have created one. Not MY baby. I can't tell you how many well-meaning, loving people said this. And I can't tell you how badly it hurts.  

2. "This was God's Plan." Nothing like that. Regardless of if you believe that. I don't care. No parent wants to hear this days after their child has been ripped away from them. Who are YOU to say what is and is not God's plan.

3. "Everything Happens for a Reason."  Really? Again, are you the Governor of the Universe? Sometimes insanely, devastating, unimaginably horrific accidents happen to some of the most loving, giving, selfless people. And we can't make any sense of it. It's not your place to try to wrap it up in a neat package, and tie it with a "God" bow. Some things just will not make sense on this side of heaven, and it's not your job to try to force sense out of tragedy.

4. "At Least... " She is in heaven now. She's no longer suffering. You got to say goodbye. Or  any "at least" sentiment, really. "At least" hurts, badly. Trust me. 

5. "I Know How You Feel, I Lost My Youngest Child in 1965." Stop right there. The parents are carrying a load that is unbearable. They cannot hold your pain, too. Don't share any "sad" story. No loss, cancer, divorce. None of it. This is for later. Much later. If you are close to the parents and want to be somewhat of a journey partner, or a guide if you will through the grief process, that time will emerge. If you just want to offer yourself as a witness that you CAN survive this...wait...there will be a time for that. Don't do that today. For the love of God DO NOT do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don't say this at the Celebration of Life. Swapping horror stories is for much, much later. I know it seems "helpful" to say, "I know your pain I lost a child," but it's just too heavy right now. Save it. 

6. "God knew you could handle it." "You must be strong people." "You are stronger than I am."  " I couldn't do this." None of this is helpful. Maybe you do think they are strong. You are probably right! Maybe you think you couldn't do it (God forbid you find yourself having to endure such heartache). But, seriously, this all hurts, too. 

So What IS Helpful to Say? 

A good rule of thumb is to make "I" statements, instead of trying to "make sense of their situation" statements:  I'm sorry. This sucks. It's totally unfair. can't fathom your pain. I'm here for you. I'm praying for you. Let me know if I can do something to help you. I love you. I loved ______(name of child). Tell them what you loved about their child. will miss them. I will miss _______(fill in the blank with a memory). I'm going to call you in a few days (Call them.) I'm going to stop by and check on you. (Stop by. Bring food. Or gift cards. Or something you know they would appreciate. Don't stay long, unless you are super close to them, or they have asked you to stay.)  If you can't say any of this... Just don't say anything at all. A touch. A pat on the back. A nod. Just being present in their grief for a split second. Carrying a tiny bit of the pain as you stand there with them. 

What Can You DO?

1. PrayI mean really, really pray. Like put your face to the ground and cry out to God for mercy for this family. Intercede on their behalf--night and day. Whenever you think of them.  I KNOW we would not have made it through without the countless multitude of family, friends, parishioners, clergy, casual acquaintances, community members, and people that just heard our story praying for us. Pray without ceasing, Love for Sophia Family, for the Myers family!

2. Let the family know you are praying for them. 

 Again, the cards and letters that flooded in. What a source of strength and encouragement!

3. Meet the Primary Needs. Communities usually do this well. Greyhound Nation is shining.  So much LOVE for Sophia is pouring in. Keep doing it. Don't stop. This serves to nourish the family physically, but also reminds them that people are walking with them. The Love for Sophia Tribe is helping carry the load. I can't tell you all the love and presence that was showered on us, and is continued to be offered, and how much it means.

4. Go through the Parents' Liaison:  It's best to try to coordinate most of the "food,"  "gifts" or "offers to help" through someone close to the family. Do not just show up at their house and walk in. Knock on door. Hand your gift to whoever answers door. Leave. Unless invited in. I say this to say, if you are trying to give food, gifts, monetary support, whatever, try to find out who this person (or people are) instead of going straight to the parents. A few suggestions in this case: Talk to Christi. Or Leah. Dana. or Kerry. Set up the giving through them, so the family is not bombarded. 

5. GIVE MONETARILY: Angel and Joshua have plans to fight this monster, stupid tumor, that took their child. I know they can do it. Help them in the fight. Give to the cause. 

6. SHARE THE LOVE FOR SOPHIA STORY: Spread the word. Your sharing and financial support could be the reason the DIPG code is cracked. And not another child has to suffer this horrible cancer. You can be a part of stopping stupid tumors from devastating families. 

In closing, I offer this prayer for the Myers and all who know and Love Sophia:
Great God of mercy, you created us in your own image, redeemed us by Christ's blood, and give us new life through your Holy Spirit. There are times when life conflicts with life and we find ourselves in the crucible of unforeseen tragedy and unbearable suffering. In this dark hour we ask that you provide a beacon of hope to light our way. We, also, offer ourselves to aid the Myers family, who are met with adversity beyond their capacity to endure alone. We offer you our hands to do Your work; We give You our eyes to see as You see; We give you our tongue to speak Your words; We offer our hearts that You may love through us. It is through such giving that we become more like you. Stir up in each of us a holy desire to think less of ourselves and more of others until we are so intertwined with Christ that it is God alone that lives, breathes, and prays in us. Amen.

Lord Hear Our Prayer,


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Walk By Faith

The word walk in the Bible often symbolizes the way we live, act, and conduct ourselves in a certain manner. It also nods to the belief that life is a journey, a movement back to the heart of God. Life is a pilgrimage, and we are sojourners traveling through this temporal life into an eternal abode. We are aliens in a foreign land inwardly groaning for home.

And so to Walk by Faith is to live in the confident expectation of things that are to come. To believe that better days are ahead. To look through your current circumstances, with Matrix like vision, to see yourself passing through the fiery trials of this world much like Jesus passed through the angry crowd that sought to harm him (Luke 4:28-30). To anticipate a great Homecoming-joining the Communion of Saints who have fought the good fight and now cheer us on.

To Walk by Faith is to live your life like you are more concerned with eternal things with lasting value and less consumed by temporal things that are fleeting. And, yet, often we are fixated on the temporal. We are driven by the things that are seen. Tangible. In plain sight. We live for wealth, power and possessions, a good seat at the table, for the charms that this world can give.

As followers of Christ we are called to look beyond this world with a deep conviction that believes to the bone there is a better place prepared for us. A home that is not of this world. A place free from Pain. Confusion. Broken Relations. Addictions. Stupid Tumors. Anxiety. Hustling for Love. A place where we are finally Free Indeed.

That all seems well and good until we find ourselves walking through a hellish nightmare that challenges our belief. 

How do you Walk by Faith when you are bent over in unimaginable suffering? 

There is a verse that I clinged to while in deep grief over the loss of my 12 year old son, Jeremy. Seven years later and it is still on my electronic signature:

Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
And through the rivers,
They shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned.
The flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God. 
                                                                                Isaiah 43:1-2

As I spend more and more time with sweet Sophia, Angel, Joshua and family they each bear a living witness to this promise of God. Angel & Joshua pour every ounce of their being into the care and comfort of Sophia, clearly empowered by a supernatural energy source. They are passing through a raging, seemingly impassable, river. Yet, God is with them. They are walking through a scorching fire that has the power to utterly destroy them, yet, they are not consumed. They continue day after day, moment by moment, breath by precious breath, lovingly caring for Sophia, trusting God, and Walking by Faith. Confident that even through the darkest valley, God is walking with them.

Angel, witnessing you continue to "Walk by Faith" is a magnificent display of what trusting in God--even in the darkest times--looks like. Thank you for sharing your heart and story in such a transparent and vulnerable way. We won't stop praying for Sophia, you, Joshua and family. #WalkByFaith I love you, MJ

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day: The gifts that, really, matter

A dear colleague in ministry, Rev. Andy Stoddard, shared this pastoral post offering hope to the broken-hearted facing Mother's Day. What caused me to pause and really allow his words, like a soothing salve, to pour deep down into the plethora of piercings that dot my heart is I know he is a fellow sojourner of the broken way. Coming from someone else I would have scrolled right past it dismissing these quips as the fluffy stuff Hallmark cotton candy cards are made of. 

I'm not really sure when this cynical bent first crept in. It was definitely after the death of my 12 year old son, but before the death of my mother. I think it just worsened after my mom blew us all out of the water by taking her life. And now it's sometimes difficult to listen to others try to offer advice, tips, help if they have not been heart crushed as well. (I don't share this like it's a good thing. It's a growing edge for sure.) 

Those that have lost children. Those that have lost their mothers.

Somewhere in the middle of those two lonely sentences, twin pillars of tragedy, you will find bits and pieces of my shattered heart. 

And no Mother's Day breakfast in bed, no carnations offered by precious children at church, no Sunday afternoon fancy brunch, no creative gifts that say, "I know you," no thoughtful cards, over the top Facebook accolades, or being offered chill time by the pool will take away this throbbing ache. 

(Now Kirby family: if you happen to be reading this--this is NOT your cue to take back all the darling gestures you have planned for your wife/mother or are now cooking up in response. Let's not go crazy here! And let the record state: I take back my earlier declaration, "We are just gonna skip Mother's Day this year." A Mother's Day happy or two never hurt anyone!) 

I'm just trying to say the broken dreams, shattered lives, loss of child or mother or both type of grief runs much deeper than what cards, chocolates and kisses can fix. 

I know this.

Andy knows this. 

And some of you reading know, too. 

I'm sorry this is a part of your life's tapestry (and mine). I'm sorry you are dreading facing another holiday that reminds you of your great loss.

And so, THANK YOU, Andy, for reminding me I do not cringe at the thought of celebrating Mother's Day alone.

I do not cry alone--Like yesterday when I completely freaked out a young sales associate at Dick's Sporting Goods. He will probably never ask another lady with her back to to him, "Mam, can I help you find anything?" For fear she might turn around and scar him for life by a mascara stained, blubbering, snot shooting out of her nose mess!  What exactly do you say to a person bent over completely overcome by grief that was triggered in a hot, unexpected second by DSG's clever "Give a Gift that Matters" Mother's Day ad campaign vomited from wall to wall? Apparently you say nothing. Because, honestly, you don't know what to say. You just stare back at her wide-eyed. Frozen like a statue. 

I do not dread tomorrow alone. 

 I chose to remember
Just as Jesus wept beside the tomb of His friend Lazarus, so now He weeps with all the brokenhearted.

And I weep with you, too, dear, brave ones. I hope and pray both you and I will be courageous enough to dream new dreams, to deeply love once more, to approach tomorrow a bit more thankful for the gifts we have--The Gifts that, REALLY, Matter--Family and friends to laugh with, love, and share this crazy, awful, beautiful, mascara ugly cry life with--The greatest treasures we can hope for on Mother's Day or any day.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the Fourth: An Out of This World Birthday

"May the Fourth Be With You. "
I was dreading it. All the Star Wars freaks and geeks flooding my News Feeds with their personal twist on Star Wars Day. No, I'm not a Star Wars hater. Actually, like it a lot. Star Trek, different story. It takes a special sort of Space Geek to dig Star Trek. But Star Wars...Sure, I can get with that.
One of my favorite 5 year old hairstyles was Princess Leia space buns. I have friends that can still ROCK that Out of this World awesome look!

No, my issue with it is I don't get to send my Mom a text with some cheesy version of, "May the 4th be your best birthday, yet!" And she says back, "What now??"

And I call her and helplessly try to explain to her (not exactly the Space Geek type) it's a play on a popular pun. You, know... May the Force Be With You, from Star Wars? Well it's May the 4th? Get it? May the 4th be with you? And it's your birthday! So, May the 4th be an out of this world birthday! 

Well, this year it certainly is an out of this world birthday. It's in a freaking galaxy far, far away...And, sure, I know she is having a Blast. Celebrations: Her Signature Trademark! Yet, I'm left here longing for the time that was snatched away from us. That zoomed by at the speed of hyperspace. And I'm left wishing for the tender days of yesteryear for her to swoop my long, black hair into Leila space buns. Ugh...Just ugh.

And this in particular May the Fourth was to be a SUPER SPECIAL one of Galactic proportions! Mom was turning the BIG 6-0! We had made a sorta pact that we would do New York City for DeDe's 60th birthday. Mom, me, Cherry, Chloe and we were going to see if her sisters and their daughters wanted to go, too. Was going to be a DeDe's 60th & Chloe's Sweet 16 Trip of a Life Time! Good times, ahead!

But, alas, the Dark Side overcame our sweet DeDe. She poured out herself for others.  Leaving nothing to sustain herself. She fought the good fight until there was simply nothing left to give. God rest her sweet soul.

During this past Easter these hauntingly telling pictures popped up on my Time Hop and I was completely floored. Like breath knocked out of me floored. How did we not SEE this? My sweet Mama looked absolutely miserable. So unsettled. So, doing everything she can to hang on. So overcome. I remember saying something rude that day like, "Mom, can't you just smile!?"

Well, no, she couldn't just smile. She was so low.  So overcome by the darkness.  So sad. So worried.  So everything that she just couldn't stand to be in this world not one more breath.

Not one more Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter.  or May the Fourth. She couldn't take one more moment of this world.

If you are reading this and you have even a tiny concern about someone: Please, don't be afraid. Or second guess yourself. Or feel like you are over-reacting. Reach out to them and try to get them the help they need: Counseling, medication, a support group. Tell them you care. You are there for them. You love them.

Don't wait. Till you can no longer say,
 "May the 4th Be With You." 
"And Also With You."