Archives For BeckyDurham

How Do You Measure A Year?

December 30, 2017 — 2 Comments

My first end of the month check in on January 31, 2017.

997 miles behind me. 3 to go.

I walked my first mile in Dubuque, IA on January 1 after driving all day before the start of the start of J-Term. I walked 51 miles while was there. I would finish the month of January with about 95 miles, well on my way. I remember thinking, “Whew. I think I can do this.”

Some miles came with memorable news and milestones. I was walking when I received the news that my college best friend was pregnant. I was walking when I received the news that another friend had cancer. I walked 3 miles on my 39th birthday. I completed mile 421 on the day Jonas graduated from high school.

Miles were collected in Dubuque and Henderson, yes, but also in Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Indiana, Chicago, and Gulf Shores, Alabama. I worked out in my neighborhood, in downtown Henderson, at the YMCA, and anywhere I could count the miles or get someone else to walk with me.

Only intentional exercise counts, and I did almost all of it walking, jogging, and on an elliptical machine at the Y. The 20ish miles I got by biking, I counted at a 3:1 ratio (so that means I did about 60 miles to count the 20). The rules for counting miles are found here. My Fitbit helped keep me motivated, but I tried to not use my Fitbit to track my miles. Instead, I used the Map my Walk app on my phone and the distance tracker on whichever machine I was using. On the rare occasions I needed to use my fitbit, I used the number 2,200–as in 2,200 steps equals a mile for me.

I decided to do 1000 miles because I knew I needed some better exercise goals, and I knew that I needed to step up my exercise routines and stop phoning it in. Just because I went to the Y four times a week on average in 2016 doesn’t mean I worked out well, so going to the Y on its own is not a great goal for me. Having a total mile goal seemed like a good way to push myself to do better at this.

I also did it because Jenn challenged me to do it. She completed her 1000 mile goal on the last day of 2016…and that’s the day I decided to sign up for the challenge at moonjoggers.com. This year, we chased the sun all year. Jenn chose the 1000 number because it works out to about 3 miles a day, which is close to the average distance that a woman living in Sub-Saharan Africa walks every day for water. Now, obviously, I don’t think that me walking for exercise is anything like the energy, courage, and determination shown by women in the world who take up this task out of necessity daily, but the number was chosen thoughtfully and provided a devotional and prayer opportunity along with the exercise.

To do this, I had to make up my mind to do it and dump the familiar excuses I always had for not being very diligent or purposeful in my exercising. 1000 miles doesn’t happen on accident. It has to be planned, intentional. I don’t have time to exercise, so I have to make time to exercise. That meant early mornings. That meant long days. That meant exercising when I could have been studying, writing a sermon, cleaning our house, fixing our dinner, or sleeping–and then I figured out more efficient ways to get the things done I needed to do. Did you know that it’s possible to go to bed at 9:00 at night to facilitate a 5:00 am alarm if you make up your mind to do it?  I exercised through pain (don’t worry, I checked in with both doctor and chiropractor about the particular pain I was experiencing). I exercised when I was exhausted. I exercised when I felt defeated, depressed, or frustrated.

Having a long-term goal, one that can’t be interpreted and one that I refused to cheat, was a game-changer. Having a year to meet it meant that I practiced discipline and devotion. Having a goal that had nothing to do with how many pounds or inches I was losing meant that no matter what the numbers on the scale or measuring tape were, I could feel strong and capable and proud of myself.

Today, I walk my last three miles and finish the year with 1000 miles behind me.

On Monday, I start my Journey to Jupiter, which for me means another 1000 miles. If you’re interested in taking the challenge, you can set your own mile goal.

How do you measure a year? However you count it, hopefully at the end you’re healthier, stronger, and wiser than when you started. Happy New Year, friends!

Dear Church Family,

The verse of scripture that has carried me through the past year is this one:

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for God who has promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

I am just days away from the beginning of my final semester of seminary at the University of Dubuque, just months away from receiving my Masters of Divinity degree, just perhaps half a year or so from a future I can barely imagine in my mind, because it so unknown still. You have been in a similar place at some point in your life, no doubt. You may not have anticipated the season of unknown for four years like Jason and I have, but sometimes transitions come and we simply do not know what comes next.

But I do know this: the One who has promised is faithful. Even when I can’t see where the arc of the story is headed, God does, and as I stick close and keep awake and stay the course faithfully, God will turn the pages of the book we’re writing together in due time. The same is true for you. If you’re living in a moment of unknown future, if you’re living day to day just trying to get to the next part of your story, if you’re completely content with your life and hope the current season lasts forever, the Lord of your story is faithfully leading you onward and has a perfectly trustworthy plan and purpose for you.

Jason and I are so grateful for all of you who have contributed to these seminary chapters of our story. Some of you have served in necessary official roles, as session liaisons  to the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry, or as participants on my Supervised Practice of Ministry committee here at the church. Some of you have written scholarship recommendations or have given to the church scholarship fund. Some of you have given gifts directly to Jason and I, or have saved your change for my education fund. Many of you have offered consistent encouraging words, have taken the time to help me identify my particular gifts for ministry, and have faithfully prayed for us. Some of you have hung with me for years, patient with my mistakes, tolerant of my insistence that we try new things, enthusiastic about serving side by side in many different ministry opportunities. And regarding the five pastors I have served alongside–I’m so glad that they each have taken the time to mentor me, have willingly encouraged me to preach as often as I wanted, have challenged me to grow, have cared for my soul and my family, and have given me words and ideas and good examples of what it means to pastor a church.

God is such a good story-crafter.

With Love and Gratitude,

Becky Durham

http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48278

The Audio file of my sermon is here:

Sermon Luke 1:26-56

The Scripture Passage:

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

Mary’s Song of Praise

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

 And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

#Shine and #Awake

December 25, 2017 — Leave a comment

Me on Saturday looking ahead at the photo prompts: Oh! “Shine!” I’ll take a photo of my Silent Night candle!

Me during the second verse of Silent Night last night: It would probably be bad if I fell asleep holding this lit candle.

I think I forgot a few things about my plan to take photos in the last minutes of a flow of ministry that had accelerated as Advent advanced. Yesterday, December 24, did double duty on the church calendar as the fourth Sunday of Advent (morning service) and Christmas Eve (evening service). Our pastor, Eric, and I divided up the duties and I had primary leadership of the morning service and then assisted him in leading the evening service. Plus we both had lots of ministry and family stuff happening behind the scenes. My phone wasn’t even with me as I held my candle. I dropped it in my office on one of my laps around the building before the service started.

Advent and Christmas worship for me will likely never be slow and reflective, calm and quiet–or at least, those will be the rare moments. I’ve chosen a vocation that guarantees I’ll typically spend December in high gear and Christmas Eve leading worship for my congregation. I have watched my pastors and pastor friends do it for years, even as I’ve experienced my own version of the Advent/Christmas hustle in youth and family ministry. I have been the beneficiary of their well-prepared liturgies and sermons, their leadership in worship, their careful planning that made the moment my candle was lit ahead of Silent Night magical and hope-filled and holy.

And I am grateful for all of it.

I love ministry, especially on those days and in those times that are accelerated and have special meaning and particular traditions. I love the joy of families and church family gathering, the expectation of what comes next, the unison voices reading and singing words new and ancient. I love the surprises and missteps, when planning comes to fruition, and the visible movement of the Holy Spirit as a congregation worships together. I love all of the behind-the-scenes ministry that happens, what I see happening by the hands and dedication of so many volunteers and staff, and what I never know about or acknowledge–God knows and blesses every bit of it. And I am thankful for a husband who is supportive and flexible, who handles home and family stuff during these times so that I can be fully present before God as I follow a call to ministry.

This morning, I’m awake. I am about 3/4 of the way through my first cup of coffee, finally taking a few moments to reflect.

‘Sleeper, awake!
   Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’ (Ephesians 5:14b)

Moments from yesterday are drifting back to me, moments I sped through out of necessity of whatever came next.

The Advent candle lighting participant who asked, “Did you like my ad lib? When I slipped in the King James version instead?”

The glimpses from afar of the tiny newborn baby, daughter of one of our nursery workers, in the nursery at both services. I do wish I could go back and slow down at that moment to coo over her for a second or two, because she’s wonderful.

The seventh grade ukulele player whispering “I’m scared” in my ear as the children’s sermon she was helping me lead was starting.

The teenage scripture reader who was trying to figure out what it meant that he was only to read through verse 4a which sparked a fun, short conversation about how maybe on Christmas Eve we don’t read the part b of the verse (spoiler alert: the wicked are struck dead).

The quick greetings of worship participants who arrived early enough that I could stop and chat for a moment as pews were claimed and seats were taken, and the even quicker greetings that happened at the back door of the sanctuary as families, many containing past youth group participants who stopped for hugs and hellos before exiting into the frigid night.

Standing on the front walk of the church, helping Gary dig the candles out of the ice luminaries, the ones he spent all of December making, once the service was over last night on a very cold Christmas Eve night.

What a wonderful time of the year!

May your Christmastide be peaceful and magical!

#Exult

December 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

For I the Lord love justice,
   I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
   and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
   and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
   that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
   my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
   and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
   to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:8-11)

December 24 is doing double duty as the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. I was at the church, running through my sermon when I really took a look around the empty sanctuary.

Listen, some of you know I have a bit of a running commentary about the carpet and upholstery. I know in the 1970s, it was probably the chic-est color, but the rusty orange sometimes makes 2000s me grimace. I got married in that sanctuary 15 years ago and had to make a conscious decision to just ignore the color of the carpet and pews. On Thursday night, I spilled wax all over part of the carpet and wondered who would be the first person to accuse me of intentional sabotage. (It did not take long for someone to do so, by the way!)

But I looked around today and had to stop and sit down on the steps for a moment. I thought about the moments of beauty I’ve witnessed in that space. Weddings, funerals, worship services, youth group rehearsals, choir rehearsals, prayer gatherings, Ash Wednesdays, Maundy Thursdays, Christmas Eve worship services every year I’ve been here, except for 2004, when it snowed and we had to cancel it. I thought about the day when Jason and I stood on the top step, facing each other and exchanging vows to love, honor, and cherish each other all our days, and I thought of a day more than a decade later when we both sat, side by side, on that top step, silently contemplating the hardest moments of our marriage. I thought about the times I’ve stood at the baptismal font with someone receiving the sacrament, the times I’ve stood at the communion table and held the bread and the cup aloft, the times I’ve had the honor of standing in the pulpit proclaiming the word of God–those moments when I knew in my heart that I had not misheard God’s calling, no matter how long and tiring the road was. I thought about the ways God has spoken to me and to others through the words of the five pastors I’ve worked with, how many hands have been shaken and how many hugs have been exchanged during the Passing of the Peace, how many times a visitor has been greeted and warmly received, how many joys and concerns have been shared, and the countless prayers that have been offered for the sake of those in need of prayer.

And the word I thought of, the one that was on my mind all day anyway as I searched for a reason to take a photo, was “exult.”

Exult /iɡˈzəlt/ verb: To show or feel elation or jubilation

God is so good. I am so grateful.

Merry Christmas!

#Joy

December 21, 2017

Joy.

“Joy to the World…”

“…tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”

“How great our joy…JOY JOY JOY!”

Expectations of joy are everywhere right now. Sometimes life, even in this season, doesn’t live up to the expectations and hype of Christmas. I love our Longest Night service because it makes room for that reality.

I’m out of words for today. But these ancient words abide:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

 

#Provide

December 20, 2017

God always has provided what I/we have needed. Not always what I/we wanted, but we’ve had what was needed when we needed it.

There have been plenty of twists and turns, heartaches and surprises along the way, but I can look back and see God at work, even in the moments I was afraid or uncertain or frustrated or devastated. I may not have seen it at the time, but I can look back and see that I was not (we were not) abandoned.

For the first time in a awhile, we are anticipating a season of transition and the unknown. Where? When? How? What? And honestly, I can manufacture a hundred scenarios that all come with their own questions about where, when, how, and what. It’s not immediate, but the discernment starts soon.

I’m spending some time with this book and thinking about the process of making decisions regarding vocation and calling.

“Each of us has a mission in life. Jesus prays to his Father for his followers, saying, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). We seldom fully realize that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we have to choose how, where, and with whom to live. We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.” Henri Nouwen (p. 99 of “Discernment”)

 

 

#Comfort

December 19, 2017

I feel like the photo would be enough for this one.

There’s just something about a pot full of soup when the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer and Advent is moving along at a too-fast pace. On a day when there’s just been too much bad news this week.

For me, this soup is a big ole pot of comfort. Especially because I got to share it with some people I love.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 3-7

#News

December 17, 2017

How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
   who announces salvation,
   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
   together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
   the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
   you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
   he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
   before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
   the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10)

#Might and #Carry

December 17, 2017

We have ten year-old Nelson staying with us for a few days while his mom had his newest baby sister, Kyah.

He came over on Thursday night…so here it is Sunday morning and I’m just getting it together to post photos for the last two days. We are a little bit out of practice when it comes to having a 10 year-old around. We have had a good time together.

On Friday, Jason took Nelson climbing and he climbed to the top of the wall at Vertical Xcape several times. What a mighty kid!

Yesterday, before visiting his mom, dad, and sister at the hospital, we stopped and picked up 8 blankets for a friend’s blanket drive. Nelson insisted on carrying them through the store, to the car, and up to the house where they were being delivered.

Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;  he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:9-11)