#Presence

“Jesus and the Lamb” by Katherine Brown, 1982

This artwork hangs in our hallway. It hung in our hallway at our first house, too, and before that, it hung in my apartment. The print was a college graduation gift from my friend Katie.

Many days, I walk right past it and forget to see it. Other days, I stop and trace each sketched line with my eyes and think about how comforted and safe that lamb is in the arms of its shepherd, Jesus.

Lord, you have searched me and known me. 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away. 
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely. 
You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it. 


Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast. 
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’, 
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. 


For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. 
   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed. 
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them! 
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end—I am still with you. —Psalm 139:1-18

#Thankful

15300656_10153925608076993_1561035477_nI’m thankful that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I could start a list and never find an end, probably.

Since it is Tuesday, however, I am especially thankful for a specific group of people. Every Tuesday for nearly 16 years, I have met regularly with a group of youth ministers, serving various Henderson churches.

We’ve had a variety of meeting spots and meeting times. Back in the day, when the Henderson McDonalds were trying out their McDiner concept, we met there for breakfast after most of us went to the local middle and high schools to meet with students. We met for 11 a.m.  prayer at our various churches for a good span of time. We transitioned to lunch a few years back, and then made the switch back to breakfast/coffee. Today we met at Donut Bank, but next week, we’ll be at Eastgate Restaurant, and then at Planters downtown the following week.

When we meet, we share stories from our lives, seek advice or prayer for various life or ministry circumstances, and we pray together. We don’t meet for official business or planning, although occasionally we do attempt to tackle a project together. We meet because we love each other and we understand some common struggles and we have committed to praying for each other, ministry and personal lives alike. These people have prayed with me on my hardest, darkest days, and they have celebrated with me on my best ones. When times have been hard or when times have been good, at work or with family, I know I can tell them like it is and they will mourn or laugh with me appropriately and I know that they will always care about either thing and pray with me through it. We love to meet students who belong to each other’s churches so we can tell them how we know their youth minister.

Our callings are unique, our church doctrines differ in small ways or big ways, our gifts are varied, and we are all at different points in our lives or our ministries. I wouldn’t know how to do any of this without them, and I’m so thankful for them.

The cups today belonged to Charlie, Steve, and Doug, but there were some cups missing. And there are some friends I miss because they have moved on, either to another type of work or another location.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. –Philippians 1:3-11

Photo-a-Day: #Announce

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Today is Ash Wednesday.

Christians all over the world will visibly wear an outward sign of their faith today.

In most cases, it will be a cross smudged in ash on their foreheads.

I think about a young lady at my church last year who insisted her ash be put on her hand rather than her forehead. I never asked her reasoning, but there could be many reasons from not wanting the oil from the mixture on her face to not liking to be touched on her forehead. Or maybe it was that she just didn’t want the cross to be so obvious or visible.

One of my friends texted today on her way out of the Ash Wednesday service she attended. Her quote was this: “Heading back to work…most anxiety-provoking thing I do probably. Bold in my faith, bold in my faith….” She works in a government office and she was well-aware that by returning to work with an ashen cross on her forehead, she was making an announcement of sorts. Without words, she was announcing that she had been to church, that she identifies with Jesus, that she is a person of faith.  Perhaps she was surprised to see others around her with crosses making visible announcements, too. My hope for her is that it provided an opportunity or two for conversation (she really likes conversation, so I think she’d be okay with me hoping for this).

A cross on my forehead is a very recognizable symbol, but there are a lot of things I do or neglect to do that announce, correctly or not, something about my identity and my faith. My hope as I walk this Lent is that people will recognize Jesus in my words and actions.

JTerm Week 1: From the Frozen Tundra

Hi friends! Time’s flying and I’m in the middle of my second trip to Iowa for an intensive as I seek to complete my Masters of Divinity degree in the distance program at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (UDTS).

Last semester, I completed a Theological Research class, a Spiritual Formation class, and Foundations of Worship during the August Term and Old Testament and Missions/Evangelism during the semester (distance learning). That turned out all right.

This semester, I am taking Spiritual Formation and History and Confessions of the PC(USA) during the January Term and I will take New Testament and Presbyterian Polity during the Spring Semester (distance learning).

Things are going well. We’ve had some adventures here. I arrived in Iowa on Saturday (January 3) at supper time. Around midnight, I got in the passenger seat of classmate Krista’s vehicle and we drove to Moline to pick up Jennifer when her flight landed at 1:00 a.m.

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Jennifer had an interesting time getting to Dubuque. Starting on Friday night with her original flight, and then several attempts at other cities that would get her close to Dubuque, every flight got canceled. Just when she was setting up a permanent living space in the Denver Airport, she got on a flight to Moline. Krista commemorated this with the following sign that greeted Jennifer at the Moline airport:

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On the way back to Dubuque, it started snowing:

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If you’re reading this, you might get used to weather related observations. There is a lot of weather in Dubuque, Iowa. In fact, let’s just get this one out of the way:

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I have taken several photos of the weather app on my phone this week.

Finally, come Sunday night, most of us had made it to Dubuque, and come Monday evening, all of the first year distance cohort (minus Evelyn, who is not able to join us this time) had finally, safely made it to Dubuque. Everyone got scarves!

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Living in a hotel is interesting. When you volunteer to cook dinner, there are limited options. Our standards for where it is acceptable to prepare food are lowered here. For example, a rather popular place to cook and prepare food here is the bathroom. I gave that a try on Monday. The result was a Hawaiian Chicken that is now known as “Bathroom Chicken.” Yum, yum!

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Class is going well. As I mentioned, I’m taking my spiritual formation credit with my wonderful Spiritual Formation Group and I’m taking a class with Dr. Gary Hansen on History and Confessions of the PC(USA).

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My mother has pointed out that it appears coffee is very important in my spiritual formation. I do consume a lot of coffee normally, and it seems to be a much higher level of consumption when I’m in Dubuque. First, coffee is hot and it’s pretty cold here. Second, coffee has magical powers to keep my eyelids open, which is pretty important when one is in class and Chapel 7-8 hours a day.

On Monday, it snowed.

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(Yes, that photo is jarring for many reasons. I think the camera on my phone was shivering when I took this.)

We bundle up when we go to class. Or anywhere else. Especially those of us from slightly warmer climates. It’s cold here.

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Ben from Georgia

 

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Carolyn from Florida
 Our classes are interesting and fun, for the most part. I’m very much enjoying the things we are learning. There are breaks that include dance parties, prayer and song, and other shenanigans (like this selfie with John Calvin).

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Jennifer and John

I’m working some on my bubble and block letter techniques, but at least I’m keeping it relevant.

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I think John Calvin is pretty impressed.

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Samson The Faithful

399819_10150494028011993_1921053131_nTwelve years ago, on this very date (June 2), an almost-family of three (still two Durhams and a Berdine, as the wedding was still two months away) drove way out into the countryside and brought home two six-week old golden retriever puppies. One of those puppies would not live past her second birthday. Lila’s death marked one of the first very sad moments in the life of our new family.

The other puppy would grow into a funny, handsome, loyal, very good dog who would give us and our guests lots of fodder for dinner table conversation, lots of reasons to giggle and lots of reasons to love life a little more.

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Of all the things Sam is, however, faithful describes him best of all. When I am home, even in these last days, he is by my side. When I get up in the morning, he gets up too. When I go to bed at night, he follows behind me and lays down by my bedside. When I go from room to room, cleaning or getting ready to go, he follows me around until he finally gets tired of my constant room switching and lays down in the hallway at the center of the house where he can monitor my activity no matter which way I go. When I watch TV or read a book, he lies down at my feet. When I eat, he stands by hopefully (unless Jason’s eating too–he knows his odds of getting a treat are much greater if he stands by Jason in that case). When I take a shower, he takes a guard position outside the bathroom door. Often, to get him to go outside, I have to go outside too just so he’ll be convinced to stay there long enough to do what he needs to do.

I wish I could say I’ve been as faithful to him. I keep insisting on leaving him behind as I go to work. to Zumba, to the store, out with friends, on mission trips and vacations…I always make sure he’ll be cared for while we’re gone–his list of family and friends is long and wonderful, but I always have another place to go.

Unfazed, however, no matter how long I’m gone–one week, one afternoon, one minute–when I return there is he is, waiting for me so he can greet me, tail wagging, and be by my side again.

1460239_10151751307016993_1563665155_nHe’s a dog, but he’s not just a dog.

He’s been in our family for twelve years today. This Thursday (June 5), we will take him to his vet for the last time and I will stay by his side and say goodbye.

When you get a dog, you don’t hope he’ll outlive you. There’s always the realization that one day, hopefully many years down the road, the time will come to say goodbye. It’s been almost four weeks since we first took Sam to the vet to have his mouth checked out. So many of you have expressed your sorrow and care to us countless times. Sometimes, it seems a little embarrassing for this to be such a drawn-out experience or to be sharing it and updating about it and “making” you express sympathy and concern.

Yet, I know that your care comes not only from our friendship, for which I am grateful, but also because many of you have loved dogs and cats and goldfish and turtles and parakeets and even snakes that you’ve lost and missed or that you dread losing and missing one day. Thank you for both your friendship and your empathy. And thank you for indulging a final blog entry about our very good, faithful dog.

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Why You Should Take Your Daughter To Zumba…

Photo Credit: Nibby Priest (taken in Church Fellowship Hall)
Photo Credit: Nibby Priest (taken in Church Fellowship Hall)

(…or any group fitness class.)

You probably know that for the last one and a half years, I’ve been participating in Zumba classes that are held at Presbyterian Church in downtown Henderson KY. Three instructors teach in the gym at the church on Mondays (5:30 p.m.), Tuesdays (5:30 and 6:35 p.m.) and Saturdays (9:00 a.m.).

Almost all of the participants are women. Many are mothers. Some bring their children with them to Zumba. Sometimes the kids play in an attached classroom, but sometimes they watch or participate in the class. The instructors are very gracious, and I think it’s great when kids are there.

Yes, it’s great because they are exercising and kids exercising is a “win.” Yes, it’s great because they are learning some basis dance moves (cha cha, mambo, salsa, single single double). But it’s also great because they are seeing something they don’t get to see everywhere: women of all ages and body types, of all abilities and inabilities doing something fun and healthy.

We worry about daughters in our society. The media available to them is often full of air-brushed and plastic body parts. We worry that they’ll try to obtain something that’s impossible–the perfection that only comes with personal trainers, personal chefs, personal plastic surgeons and Photoshop.

In my Zumba classes on Tuesday night (I took 1.5 classes on Tuesday), there were several children present. At one point, there was a part of a song where we were all facing the north wall of the gym and shaking it. I mean, that’s the instruction: face that wall and shake it out. Bodies of all types, created by God and beautiful in each one’s own way, shook and moved. Young and old, short and tall, thin and curvy, full of energy and exhausted after a day at work or at home. Women, who got up that morning and themselves may have looked in the mirror and made a face because what they saw was not the impossible perfection they wished the were seeing, were smiling and shaking and laughing and encouraging each other.

When you take your daughter to Zumba, she gets a different message than the traditional media gives. She sees real bodies,none of them completely alike, being strong and healthy. She sees real women, some of whom she may look like when she grows up, doing something fun and energetic. She learns that “normal” isn’t airbrushed, and “perfect” isn’t impossible. She sees that “healthy” involves laughter, that “strong” can mean trying something new and that no body moves exactly the same way.

When you take your daughter to Zumba, she may just be learning to love her own body. And that’s truly a “win.”

Kayak Opening Day

Today is the day! Spring is here, and despite the threat of snow (again) midweek, we’re getting the kayaks out to paddle them around Audubon Lake this afternoon. Here’s hoping for sunshine and mild temperatures!

Other things happening:

I filled out my enrollment paperwork for UDTS. First day on campus: August 2!

I’m two months wheat free (or mostly wheat free…there was Fat Tuesday when I hate pizza and last weekend when I ate some breaded shrimp on Friday and some dutch oven corn bread on Saturday)!

I get to see Jenny, Zach and baby Samuel this week while they are in Jenny’s hometown visiting her family.

We scheduled our dog, Samson, for surgery in less than two weeks. He has a tumor that needs to be removed. We struggled with whether to put him through surgery at his advanced age, but we’re going to hope it improves his quality of life for the years (God willing) he has left.

I filled out a bracket for March Madness. After yesterday’s games, I’m at 37.3%. Ohio State lost and Harvard won and for some reason I thought Virginia would lose their first game. Basically everyone else in my bracket challenge group picked Virginia to be national champions, so apparently they know something I do not. And I know nothing, actually. It may as well have been a monkey pointing at team logos for all the knowledge and sportiness that went into my bracket.

Wearing the same 7 items of clothing all week has not really bothered me. I am tired of wearing the same pajamas every night. Go figure. Also, my zumba shirt smells like a campfire this morning because I wore it when I sat at the fire pit last night. It is ridiculous that I have over 300 items of clothing in my closet, considering that I sincerely do not spend a lot of time worrying about my clothing. I’ve been working to pull items to donate and box up items to save.

I’m floundering in the EmptyShelf Challenge. I’m mid-way through so many books. I need to finish some and move on!

In addition to kayaking this afternoon, tonight we are grilling out for the first time this season.

Hope you have a sunny Saturday, wherever you are!

What’s a Picture Worth?

I sat on the back of the borrowed four-wheeler, leaning into my husband as we pulled to a stop.

“Cut the engine,” Jerry, the driver of the second ATV advised. Four of us (Ashley was the fourth) sat in silence for a moment.

It was twilight in Pike State Forest and the landscape was beautiful. The day had been full of sunshine and the afternoon had not required a jacket. We could see the sun setting and the moon rising. The land also rose and fell all around us. We were at a high point and we could see a good distance.

It was a beautiful. More beautiful than I would have expected when we went off road just half a mile back.

Jerry broke the silence. “They call this place [explicit name for a specific sexual act] Hill,” He explained. “And if you want to know why…”

The quick reply from the rest of us was, “We don’t!”

The ride was bumpy, too fast in some places, too slow in others, muddy and fun. We ended up at the banks of the Patoka River. We stood together, shooting the breeze, talking about what it was like there in summer (overrun with mosquitoes, apparently) and telling stories about toboggans and weird dreams the full moon brought, of all things.

At some point, we decided to head back. Both vehicles required headlights for the return trip. Over tree limbs and through mud puddles, in and out ruts forged before us, up and down hills to the main road, where we sped through the darkness faster than I was comfortable riding, but not fast enough to keep up with the vehicle in front of us. Taking the wrong turn at a fork in the road, we found our way to an old fire tower. Realizing our mistake, we turned around and headed back the other direction and found our way to our friend James’ house.

Several times during the hour or so we were gone, I thought, I wish I had a camera. I had left my phone behind because I didn’t want to break or lose it on the bumpy ride. It’s not every day…or any day except this one, really, that I get splattered with mud riding on the back of a four-wheeler. Or that I have such a beautiful vantage point at sunset. Or that I get to spend an hour holding tight to Jason while we ride around river bottoms.

What is a picture worth, anyway? I think about how important our cameras have become. Yes, they capture memories, but they also get instagrammed and facebooked so we can let our friends (the world) know what we’re doing. I love sharing pictures of fun moments and interesting things and I love seeing the pictures and interesting things that are shared by others.

Every time I thought about my left-behind camera, I stopped myself and soaked up the memory and thought about what I might miss by looking at the evening through a camera lens or fooling with photo apps on my phone. I love photographs and the memories they secure…but sometimes I think about the things pictures can’t capture. Those are things I don’t want to miss.

Breathe deeply. Enjoy where you are now completely. Live life in all its muddy grandeur fully.

A Decided Difference

I’ve mentioned before that my friend, LouAnn Clark, has a podcast and a website called “A Decided Difference.”

One day, when LouAnn is evenlouann more famous than she already is, I’m going to be able to say: “LouAnn Clark?!? I know her! I know her! She’s my friend!” (I may have just watched “Elf.”)

She gave me a shout-out in her podcast, released yesterday, and I just wanted to say hi to her readers and provide some links for my friends. LouAnn blogs, speaks and podcasts about coping with depression and anxiety and making healthy changes from right here in Henderson, KY. She has had many excellent insights into my own life and I’m grateful for the things she’s said to me in person or via a speech at Toastmasters or her podcast that have either comforted me or caused me to change my point of view.

Her website is louannclark.com

Her latest podcast is here.

She’s also been taking pictures and blogging using the Rethink Church list like I have been.

Check out her site and give her podcast a listen!