Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary, Were You Ready?

My husband is famous for asking me brain busting questions about God and faith like a recent one: "When God created the universe, do you think he really only created life on Earth? Wouldn't he have created in other places, too? And if he did, would Jesus have come to those planets, too?" This question was one of those complex, no-real-answer-to-it questions. The other day, though, he asked me what seemed to be a relatively simple yes-or-no question: "Are you ready for Christmas?" "Yes," I said. "I am excited to see Molly's first Christmas and looking forward to spending time with family." And without saying it directly, he basically told me I had answered the wrong question. I was answering the question, "What part of the events of the 25th of December 2008 are you most anticipating?" But the question he asked was, "Are you ready for Christmas?" He then went on to explain what he was really asking, "You know, you have always wanted to proclaim the Christmas word, and now you get to do that. Now, you get to bring the hopeful word to the people, and aren't you just a little excited about that? " And so, I remind myself that it's Christmas that I am ready for, it's Christ that has me anticipating, the entrance of God into the world that makes my heart race. So I turn my eyes back more than 2 millennium, and I wonder, Mary were you ready? Were you prepared for the way that this ordinary labor and delivery would become something so much more and would profoundly change your life? Were you ready to be Mother of God? Were you ready for Christmas to come? May the joyful expectation of the Christ child and his love be yours this Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Love Actually is All Around

Last Sunday, the Ladies Bible Study group decided to go Christmas caroling at Walmart....and they weren't just caroling to spread cheer. They decided that they would sing about Christ and also work for Christ by collecting money and gifts for those in need. They had a sign and a box and a bucket...and Santa hats! Anyone who knows me knows I shouldn't be allowed within ten feet of a Christmas caroling group, especially if there is money involved. But, I showed up, and donned my Santa hat, and started singing. It was incredible! People came out with bags of food to donate and dropped money into the bucket. What was especially touching was seeing the ones who seemed to have the least give the most. Later, I learned, somewhere in the bottom of the bucket was a crumpled $100 bill. But it wasn't about the money. It was about the babe in the manger. You know, the one we say it's about...the one all the songs are about. As we stood there singing "Joy to the World" and proclaiming that the Lord is King, it seemed so counter-cultural and so God-like. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room. And there they were, those hearts preparing room. Pushing aside their wants and desires and saying, "Because of him, because he lives here, I am going to reach out to someone else." My heart was so full of true Christmas joy, my eyes started watering...darned cold wind can do that. Nah, it was the other waterworks thing....Jesus can do that! His love actually is all around. If you look for it, you'll find it. May you find it this Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Angels from the realms of glory

CAUTION FOR READING...contains mature subject matter.
'Tis the season...for the Victoria's Secret fashion show. The lingerie-clad models winging their flights oer the television screen. They are dressed in festive holiday "apparel," or so I hear. Come and worship us, they beckon with their feathered wings. Your woman can look like me, too. Get her this outfit, these wings, and then worship her. I have to say, is this what Christmas has become? Is this what people look forward to? Are these the angels we want to put on high? What happened to those other angels from the realms of glory, telling the story of the Messiah's birth? And why have these ideas of womanhood become objects of worship? What about the cry of the heavenly host to come and worship Christ?
A favorite Christian author and literary hero to me is Lauren Winner. Lauren writes a great book that exposes our way of thinking about our bodies and our intimate relationships, Real Sex. In this book, she discusses the Victoria's Secret phenomenon and brings to light a telling truth about our cultural obsession with sex...she reminds us that sexual images bury themselves in our minds and in our relationships and eventually chip away at good intimacy. She says that these images teach us that real bodies aren't good enough, and that "real sex" happens only in a fantastic, other-worldly way. God, who cares enough about the people he has created, chooses to inhabit our bodies in the birth of the Christ child. And so, I'm certain, our bodies and how we approach them matter to God. I doubt these angels are what he had in mind. So, each time I am bombarded with the fluffy-winged images, I am going to remember those other angels who proclaimed a redeemed flesh--that God in our skin is here! And that he bids us choose respect and love over gratification and desire. In excelsis deo!

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Thanks-full Life

A day past thanksgiving, and I still give thanks. Probably mostly because I had another "Thanksgiving" feast today, and I spent more time with family. I guess my mind's still on Thanksgiving, but is it just a holiday? Is it something that I do in late November because that's the time set aside to do it? I'll admit something about myself that is clearly not my finest feature--I am a glass-half-empty person. I am a worrier. More often than I would like, I agonize over the stressful, hard, sad, hurtful, negative things in my life--thinking about the ways life is not a thanks-full event. But I want desperately to be a person that lives in a spirit of thanking God continuously for the beauty, wonder, goodness, love, and joy that is a part of my life. So, somehow, I must get from here to there, and I know it's not just a matter of will. I can't just say I am going to give thanks again and again and expect that to actually do the trick. The pesky thing about doing this is that it will take some work on my part--a constant reminder to myself to give thanks, and continuously refocusing my gaze so that it points in the direction of hope and joy. But along the way, I think I'll be thankful for the process, too, because it will make me a better person.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am my own pet peeve.

Today is an marks a month since my last blog. And it is a milestone, too--a first for me. I have become that which I loathe. I am now my own pet peeve. The thing that bothers me to the point of twitching I have now done. I have a blog, and I have not updated it in a month. A MONTH. 31 days of no words. I can only imagine what devoted readers (all 3 of you!) are thinking about this lack of posts from me. On the other hand, maybe you have enjoyed the break.
Either way, it's time to get back to the blogosphere...but not because it is expected, but because it feeds my soul. It is the thing I need to connect in a real way with God. It is my jolt in faith. It keeps me awake in my spiritual life. So, why no posts? I've had this period of blogging-block. And I've decided it must come from thinking about God too much. Just like authors who can't finish a chapter because they are over-thinking the task, sometimes I find myself too much in my head when it comes to God. "Gotta think about God now. Gotta think about God now. What am I thinking about God now? Not sure what I am thinking, other than I am thinking about thinking about God. Now, what am I thinking? God, yeah, um......"
Sometimes I get God stuck in my head, and I can't get him out. I think and think and think on God, and then, when it comes to living with him, I have trouble doing it. I've learned lately that it's not the thinking that matters most (although it does matter some), but it's the being with God that matters...the opening of our lives to God...letting God bust in wherever he wants, wherever we don't want...making space for God being with us instead of God being in the jumbled mess that is sometimes my mind....letting God out of the box...allowing God to be God.
I heard this great song last week that reminded me about being God's child instead of God's editor:
STILL, BE STILL MY CHILD, AND KNOW THAT I'LL BE GOD FOR YOU." Ed Kilbourne, "Why I'm Not Famous" Album
What a great reminder to let God be God for us and with us as I turn my heart toward Advent. Blogs are coming, but only because Jesus is coming!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Virtual Prayer

The church has begun to offer the techies of the world a new way to connect with God. When Jesus says, "Go into all the world and make disciples," I think he means that we should go into all the world in all the ways possible. And if that means prayer websites offered for people to connect to God in new ways, then I think that is being faithful to our mission as God's church. We serve a living God, who reveals himself to us in ways we can understand. So, when people were drawing on caves in symbols, God revealed himself there. When people were telling the stories we now read in the Bible aloud, passing these oral traditions down through the generations, God revealed himself there. When the faithful were following Jesus and hearing his sermons and parables, God revealed himself there. When the church fathers came together to put the stories into written form, bound together in the canon, God revealed himself there. And now, as people are online all the time, delving into the virtual, God can reveal himself there. Now, just as all the things written and said in the name of God over the years didn't reflect the love of God, I don't believe that all websites offered in God's name are truly representative of the love of God. But I have added links to my blog of a few I think remain faithful to the calling, "Go into all the world and make disciples." Feel free to check them out, and send me your own picks.

I Brought You Into This World...

One of my favorite old school t.v. shows is The Cosby Show. I can't find reruns on much now, but when I do, I love watching. I love seeing the family dynamics and how the Huxstable clan works out parenting and marriage. It's great! I especially love when Cliff (aka "dad") tells his kids, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!" It makes me laugh because I think he's saying this to remind the kids that they don't run their own world. I baptized Molly last Sunday, and in addition to the craziness that last week brought with Charge Conference preparations, it really took me a week to process what happened in that sacrament-day.

For the first couple of months that I was a mommy, for many reasons, I was discouraged in being fully a mom and fully a pastor. Some people told me I couldn't--and shouldn't--do both. And I began to believe them. I started to internalize all of this so much so that I began hiding the "mommy" part of me so that I could be "reverend." Even though all my life I had felt called to be a mother, somehow, I convinced myself that all God really wanted from me was fulfilling the calling in ministry. Then, I started to prepare to offer my daughter the sacrament, to cleanse her from her original sin. And something changed. Some might call it divine intervention, but I call it the awesome power and revelation of God. As I got myself ready to mark my little girl with God's grace, I remembered what baptism is really about.

In the Methodist Church, we have a special way of talking about baptism--we say it's the marking of the child with God's prevenient grace, and it's the initiation into God's kingdom. Prevenient grace is the grace of God that is there for us before we even realize we need it. It's God's love poured out for us in the waters of baptism, and when a child is washed in this water, the gap between God and this child is bridged, and she becomes "initiated" into his Kingdom. That means that this is the beginning of her journey of faith, and those also on the journey will nurture her and show her the ways and the love of God. In a way, God had some prevenient grace for me in all of this. When my breaking heart kept calling out to God to show me that I could be a "reverend mommy," a mom and a pastor, and still be faithful to God, God was answering me, saying, "I'm already there. I already have grace for you in that. I made you a mother, and I made you a pastor. Why do you doubt my grace?" What a life-changing perspective for me!

One of my pastor friends said to me about being the reverend mommy who baptizes her daughter, "Now you can tell her, I brought you into this world, and I washed away your original sin....and I can put it back on you!" That last part was a joke. But the first is powerful...I brought her into the world, and I brought her into the Kingdom. What a privilege and a blessing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One of "Those" Christians and Our God

I spent a wonderful day last Saturday at Carowinds with some youth and adults. It was Christian music day, so the park was filled with "good Christian folk." Throughout the day, I overheard conversations with some of these strangers (yet brothers and sisters in Christ) and I got a little perturbed. Some of these Christians tick me off. They talk about God as if they own him and say how wonderful God is, but then they talk about other people in a way I'm sure God would not. They also paint the disturbing picture of a God who is like a vengeful, evil wizard and who zaps people who sin. When I hear these Christians, I think to myself, "How dare they make God out to be like that? And do they think they are really that holy?" Much as these Christians bug me, I am often one of them. I am often a person painting an inaccurate portrait of our God. I am reminded of my own imperfect ideas of God, and I am reminded that I am not the authority on who God is. As a pastor, I am the authority on the church, in a small respect, but in the grand scheme of our faith in our God, I am no authority at all. I am simply a believer, like the rest of those Christians, God's children. I am simply loved by our God, like the rest of those Christians (and even those non-Christians, too). As evidence of my not-an-authority on the nature of God, and my own shortfalls in the faith, I recently finished a great book about God: The Shack. Without giving too much away for those of you who haven't read it, The Shack is a book that gives the reader a vivid picture of God's love for us. As I read, I found myself secretly asking, "Can God really be that good? Can eternity with God really be like that?" And there I was, one of God's children, not understanding his love and not believing in his goodness. So, the next time I go eavesdropping on conversations, I need to remember that I'm one of those children of God who misses the point, who lacks faith and understanding, but I'm one of all of God's children who is loved...anyway.

There's No "God" in Charge Conference

Mrs Jarena Lee , Preacher of the A.M.E. Church, Aged 60 years in the 11th day of the 2nd month 1844, Philadelphia 1844
In the spirit of the motivational slogan, "There's no 'I' in team," I'm throwing this one out there: "There's no 'God' in Charge Conference." Literally, the word, "God," cannot be spelled out of the letters of the words: "Charge Conference." For those of you non-Methodists reading this post, bless your hearts, Charge Conference is another term for tons and tons of administrative paperwork, record-keeping, and yearly reports culminating in a meeting sometime in the fall. For many of us pastors, Charge Conference is the bane of our existence...I am only just learning what a bane it is, as this is my first official Charge Conference in which I am responsible for compiling, seeking out, and producing copies of said reports, records, and paperwork. My play on words aside, in the last month, I have really come to express my thoughts that God can't have any part in Charge Conference preparations...they are so rigid, so orderly, and well, doesn't the Bible say something about love keeping no records, and if God is love, then?? get the picture. I am grasping at straws for some way to allow myself just a little bit of hatred for all of this business. I want God to say to me, "You know, it really doesn't matter. Don't worry your pretty little head over it." But in actuality, God has been saying something quite different. I've tried putting my fingers in my ears to drown out the words, but still God says to me:"There is something holy about this work you're doing. There is discipline there, and you need discipline in your life. There is hope in the numbers and the reports and the record-keeping, because it is in these details that we see I [God] am still at work, and that my church is still working toward my[God's] kingdom." Much as I'd like not to hear it, this work of Charge Conference is important. And, I'll go ahead and say it, there is grace in Charge Conference. Literally, the letters of the word, "grace" are there, but realistically, God's grace is there, too. In all of the details of the life of the church, there is the gift of God's love. There is the church. There is a bit of evidence for the Kingdom. There's a connection of the past and the present church, and much like this photograph of an early Methodist preacher shows, we're all a part of the connection. There's a reminder of where we have been and a looking forward to where we will someday be. Now, I'll try to remember that as I stop procrastinating and get back to the grace-filled business of Charge Conference preparations.

P.S.: For those of you saints who have helped in the completion of above-mentioned forms and records, God bless you and grant you many stars in your crowns!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Why I Want To Be a Sushi Girl

I want to be a Sushi Girl. You know them. You've seen them--all svelte and glamorous, quirky and interesting, munching on their California Rolls. So, I took myself to Whole Foods the other day, and I lamely asked the sushi chef what a fish-hating, non-weird-food-eating, uncool, non-glam girl could try at the sushi counter. He suggested the Crab, but I argued with him. Yep, I argued with the sushi chef, the sushi connoisseur himself about what I should try. "I don't like crab," I said. "Not a good choice." He laughed. "How about the California Roll?" I said. "Shrimp and avocado and cucumber wrapped in rice, I can handle that."

As I opened my chopsticks and smothered the round pieces with salty Soy Sauce, I blessed my food: "Thank you, Lord, for this sushi. I hope it is delicious. But remember, Lord, I have to make a visit at the hospital after this. Lord, please don't let me throw up."

I sat there and ate my sushi feeling pretty smug, pretty cool actually. I could picture myself being photographed by the paparazzi. Just kidding on that last part. Truthfully, I enjoyed the California Roll. It wasn't my favorite thing, and I won't become a regular, but it was okay.

What I enjoyed more was The Sushi Experience. Some of us in this world are "Type A": we get stuck in a rut of how things have to be, and everything always has to happen in the way we expect. So, The Sushi Experience got me to let go a little bit, to move outside my own sense of what is comfortable, beyond my own understanding of food, and toward a little bit of quirkiness. It helped me realize that life is way more interesting if we just let go and try something different sometimes.

And The Sushi Experience got me to thinking about my faith, too. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. How much more interesting would my life of faith be if I tried a little "sushi" sometimes? How much more full would my faith be if I let God live in me instead of in the box I put him in? How much deeper would my relationship with God be if I just let go and let him show me something different, something quirky? But there I stand at the counter, arguing with God about what is best and what is good. I want to be a Sushi Girl. I want that very much.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Molly is Getting for Christmas

As we watch our children grow, it's very natural to think about who we wish for them to become...and who we wish for them not to become. When I think about the person--the woman--I want my daughter to become, I don't think within boundaries or stereotypes as far as what may be acceptable or politically correct. My husband and I sometimes dream about her being a brilliant scientist who cures AIDS and cancer. While these are noble occupations, I think about the person I want her to become--a kindhearted, loving, compassionate, open-minded, Christ-like person. And that makes me think about vocation--being called to something more than a job. And when Molly plays and dreams about who she will become, I want her to imagine being a Christ-like person who so loves the world.
So, that's why if I can find them, this first Christmas, Molly is going to get Clergy Barbies. When she plays with them, and when she interacts with the world, I hope she will see beyond the roles and stereotypes we have created and look toward becoming a person who loves like Christ does. I hope she'll play with them and think of me, not that I am any closer to being like Christ than anyone else, but I am a good Methodist. And we Method-ists believe that by putting love in action as a method of living, some sweet day Christ will make us perfect in his love. I hope she'll pick up Clergy Faith or Clergy Grace and think, let's do what mommy tries to do. Let's do what Jesus does. Let's love people. And that's all I could ever want for her to become.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Purell Addict Meets the Bishop

This week, the clergy and lay people in our district had the opportunity to spend a little time with our new Bishop. It was a truly enjoyable experience, except for one thing...I think I heard him say there's no room for germ-o-phobes (like myself) in the Kingdom of God. He even quoted scripture. In John 14, Jesus says: "The one who believes in me will do the works that I do, and I tell you, even greater works." The Bishop went on to talk about how Jesus was touching the untouchables, loving on the lepers, and that the church and the followers of Jesus haven't been doing that as much as we should. Ouch. He said we have to find out who the lepers are in our communities (the ones who have been labelled "unclean"), and go out and touch them. Touch them? Are you nuts? Is that even legal? Is that wise? Is that really necessary for us to follow Jesus? The Bishop reminded us that this is truly what it means to share Christ with the world--to touch a bit of brokenness and uncleanness with the love of Christ. I have a little problem with doing just what the Bishop and Jesus are instructing me to do. I hate germs and's been that way since I was a kid sitting on the edge of the sandbox, putting only my hands in the sand. And whenever I'm confronted with things--or people--who aren't as generally "clean" as I'd prefer, I get a little antsy. And I try to pretty things up. I sanitize. I organize. I makeover. I rearrange. I change things. I try to change people, too, I confess. And I even go so far as to try to hide my own uncleanness. So, it's all a little overwhelming for me to go out there and get dirty and get to being like Jesus. It weirds me out--a lot. But shouldn't it be a little bit uncomfortable to share the Gospel? Shouldn't we get sort-of nervous about doing the work--and even greater work--than the Son of God? It sounds like if I am ever going to be a part of the Kingdom, my germ-o-phobia, and my being-like-Jesus-phobia have got to go.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Hug for Lunch

Today, I stopped for lunch at a place I rarely visit because it isn't very easy to get into during the lunch hour. Today's lunch was a late one, though, so I decided to stop in. I have a new rule about eating--no eating in the car (we'll see how long that lasts). I've decided to impose this particular rule upon myself because lately I have found myself rushing through meals while driving, while on the computer or phone, or while holding my daughter (A few times, Molly has gotten a little remnant of the meal on her head!) I decided that I need to take more time with eating for my body's well-being and for my spirit's well-being. So, with my new rule in tow, I went into the restaurant instead of hitting the drive-through. As soon as I walked in, one of the people taking orders said, "I know you!" It was an old friend from high school. I haven't seen her in many years. She was so glad to see me that she came out from behind the counter and hugged me. Then, with tears in her eyes she said, "God is so good. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm in the right job, but then, God sends someone I care about into the store, and I am just so happy." I have to say, I wasn't prepared for such a greeting. I didn't think that my presence in restaurant at 3 pm would make anyone's day. I didn't think it would make my day either, but it did. This was a person I knew in high school, but not a close friend. I never thought of myself as someone memorable. So, today, it was good to see someone who knew me long ago,who remembers me, and who welcomed me in a warm hug. Maybe, that's a little like how it is with Jesus and me, too. He's someone who knew me long ago, and he remembers me. He's glad to see me, even when it's not my own idea. He welcomes me with a warm hug, hoping it won't be so long the next time I slow down and come inside for a visit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Family Portrait

You asked for's the photo.

Yesterday the Fitzgeralds had our first family portrait made. I wasn't sure how this would turn out with an eight month old wiggling all around and a photographer trying to capture a still image. As we sorted through more than a hundred images, the ones I was drawn to were not the perfectly posed ones (there were very few of these) but the imperfect, different images where we were laughing or looking at each other instead of the camera. My favorite is one where James and I were each kissing Molly on the cheek, and she turned toward me instead of looking ahead. It made for a lipstick smeared little girl and a lot of laughs...and a real family, with all of its flaws and all of its love.

I've been thinking a lot lately about families...who is in them, what they mean to us, and how to deal with them. It's interesting that our family members are the ones who know us so well that they can push all our buttons and annoy the stuffing out of us. But then, when everything seems to fall apart and when others have turned away, they are the ones turning toward you for that kiss, letting you know that you're still imperfectly as that may be, you're connected and loved.

Somewhere in that messy kiss is the church...that place where you're family, God's family, connected imperfectly by a Great Love. In the church family portrait, things aren't perfectly posed, and we don't have to fake a smile. We can be real together, and that's a great family to have.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On what day did God create blogging?

What in the world is blogging? Is this just some techie thing or a political tool? Is it an online diary of sorts? What is blogging, and what does it have to do with God, anyway?

I'm relatively new to the blogosphere myself, but I find blogging to be like snuggling up with a warm, soothing mug of tea with a good friend. For me, blogging is a way to find direction, comfort, and even grace in the small things in life. When I first started blogging, I was often plagued with "blogger's block," not knowing what I should be blogging about. How did one find a topic worth writing on? I often wondered.

Then, I took a good look at some of the old Saints' writings. I read parts of Come Be My Light, a book of Mother Teresa's personal thoughts on faith and letters to God. It was then that I realized blogging is a way that modern Saints and Sinners can reflect on their world and faith and interact with a living God. Blogging is a way of looking at our everyday life and seeing where God breaks through. It's not always that obvious...sometimes it takes a blog to bring out God's presence and have a good wallow in His grace.

It may not have been in existence from the beginning, but I believe blogging is a tool we can use to connect to our Creator. So, welcome to my blog, which I've called: Wallowing in Grace. Why have a chosen such a name? I was driving by a nearby church recently, and I was so impressed with the bold sign near the door: "Wallowing in Grace." Ever since, I can't get that image out of my mind, wallowing in grace. Rolling in and wrapping myself up in God's love. It makes God seem approachable, okay with a little messiness that is sometimes my life, and comforting like a warm cup of tea with an old friend.

I hope you'll find something to connect with as you read my posts, but beware: wallowing is messy. You might be surprised by what God shows you.