The Muppet Movie is 40.

Steve pointed out this NPR read to me this morning. We both smiled, as he forwarded it to me and to Shannon (we were sure it would make her smile, too).

kermit

I didn’t have time to read it right away, but thoughts came to mind about writing a blog about it. Something in the line of my “Listening for God on Broadway” or “Listening for God in the Movies” themes.

And to be honest, didn’t you start humming “Rainbow Connection,” hearing banjos and Kermit’s nasally voice?

rainbow connection

When I eventually read the article, I thought it was brilliant. Click HERE if you want to read (or listen) to it.  So many memories came flooding back, and yes, I continued to smile. I even joined Steve in some laughter.

I think that’s part of the point of the movie. Keep smiling. Keep laughing. Keep living. As the first line of Rainbow Connection asks: “Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”

Indeed.

Why are we waiting for “the other side?” Why do we find it so hard to really live, each and every day?  We talk about that a lot in theology. The Kingdom of God is a “here and not yet” discussion to me. Yes, there is the promise of eternal life, and the promise of something so much better than where we are now.

But that doesn’t mean we are just sitting around, waiting for that day or time or season. My faith in God – in that promise – helps me to live a better life, here and now, because I have faith that the promise has been, is, and will always be fulfilled. And part of that is not just living for myself, but living for others, helping in whatever way lifts them out of their struggles. Living, to me, means knowing joy and pain, and knowing that God is in the midst of each, and of everything in between those two extremes.

It’s because of my faith that I can respond to God’s call to act now, with confidence and without fear. As we hear Kermit sing:

“Have you been fast asleep?
And have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.
Is this the sweet sound that calls
The young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.
I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it
It’s something that i’m supposed to be

Someday, we’ll find it,

The Rainbow Connection

The lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

That, my friends, is God calling your name. And God is calling, asking that you be all you are supposed to be, as children of Light. As you celebrate The Muppet Movie turning 40, remember the important lesson found in the last lines of the movie:

lifes like a movie

Don’t be afraid to live your life,  to hear and respond to God calling you to do something new.  Someday, you’ll find it: The Rainbow Connection.

 

Note: Images may be subject to copyright. The Muppet Movie and Kermit the Frog are trademarks of The Muppets Studio, LLC, owned by The Disney Company. Music and lyrics to The Rainbow Connection were  written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher,

The Call

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know that I seek wisdom from a number of sources.  I wrote a blog on that awhile back, titled “What’s Black and White and Red All Over?”  Since I’ve joined the staff at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, I’ve learned that I had better be aware of recent columns in the New York Times written by David Brooks.  Our senior pastor reads just about everything Brooks writes, including the books, and it’s good to be prepared for the discussion.

david-brooks

We take turns sharing devotionals in our Wednesday morning staff meetings, and I was called on to share in the last month or so.  Coincidentally, Brooks had just published a column the day before, which I read, about distinguishing between vocation and a career.  Brooks wrote in the context of Leadership in America, the current election, and the choices we have when we cast our vote.  You can read the article here;  please stick with me, though, because I’m not talking politics (not today, anyway).

As I read this column, I reflected on how the same concepts apply to each of us, as we strive to find joy in the work that we do.  Let’s break down some of what Brooks shared, in this new context (pushing Brooks’ context of politics to the side for another day):

A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.

 Maybe this resonated with me because of an interview I had participated in recently.  As you might know, I am seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church, and on that day, I spent one hour answering questions in front of my district’s Board of Ordained Ministry – questions about my theology, doctrine, sacraments, etc.  The first question we are asked is, “Tell us about your call.”  We proceed to share how God called us to ordained ministry, and how we embrace that call.

The same holds true for everyone – because we are all called to a vocation and to ministry, just in different ways.  Some are called to be teachers, or first responders, or a full time parent.   Some are called to build houses, or buildings, or household appliances.  When you find the joy of that call in your life, it is undeniable.  This is what Brooks means – a vocation brings joy to your life; a career brings a job…  And a call is so, so much more than a job.

calling-career-job

A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur.

You know you have found your calling when you feel joy, even when there are challenges.  Trust me, even in ministry, there are times when I struggle to keep my head above water.  But when I am a part of something – a program, a conversation, a bible study – where someone is so obviously transformed, even for a moment….that’s a sense of overwhelming joy.  Kind of like the scene from “The Incredibles”:

incredibles-totally-wicked

The careerist mentality frequently makes [us] timid, driven more by fear of failure than by any positive ideal.  This timidity results in fear which plays out as self preservation, or the ambition of self over others.

Brooks also quotes the poet David Whyte:  “Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself….losing all sense of our own voice, our own contributions and conversation.”

When we find that vocation or calling, and more importantly, when we respond to it – we find ourselves helping others and striving to lift up (yes, to love) others in need.  Even better – we find when we help others find joy, our own joy is increased.  When we love each other as Christ loves us, our fear and anxiety decrease, and we truly live into our calling – a calling so big, and so vast, that we find ourselves using our imagination – our voices – our hearts – to life others up to a better life.

Here’s the challenge: don’t be afraid to listen for the call, and to respond to it.  As we read in 1 John 4:18:

1-john-4-18

Don’t stop seeking your true vocation, your call, for it will bring you unlimited joy, and with that, you will bring unlimited joy to others.

 

 

Longhorns, Fighting Irish, and an Unexpected Friendship

September 21, 1996.  That’s how far back I have to go to tell this story.  And it seems appropriate that I tell it this week, as the University of Texas Longhorns take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Austin for each team’s opening game of the 2016 season this weekend.  Once again – since Grandma gave me the gift of gab – make yourself comfortable.

Steve and I met in the Longhorn Band at UT.  He says we met in 1985, at the Fiesta Parade in San Antonio (LHB traditionally kicks off the parade as the first band); I know better, and actually have proof.  We met in the fall of 1984 at a meeting of the LHB Decadence newsletter staff.  This was the newsletter that was written by students and distributed to LHB members to read as we traveled to away games.  I still have that particular newsletter; I’m surprised Steve hasn’t burned the evidence by now.

cathy steve LHB

But I digress.

I tell that short version of the story to share why Steve and I, once we graduated, bought season tickets to the Longhorn football games every year for 23 years.  Being in the stadium was just in our blood, and that blood bled a very boiling burnt orange.  Our first seats were well past the end zone, in the sun; eventually, we moved to an area that was under the overhang on the west side, shaded, and filled with characters that we named “Angry Man,” “Headset Man,” and “Hairnet Lady.”  Each game was not complete unless these individuals were in their proper seats; only then did we feel at home.

In 1996, we only had one child (Jack came along in 2000), so we were able to invite friends to the game.  We had four tickets, and they were stacked two and two (rather than four in a row).  This helped us out in that we could easily talk with our guests and explain traditions to them (cue “Angry Man,” “Headset Man,” and “Hairnet Lady”).

Darrell_K_Royal-Texas_Memorial_Stadium_at_Night

At this particular game, we had invited a coworker of mine, Scott Riddles, and his friend John.  Each football season, Scott and John, longtime buddies, had a guy’s weekend, when they selected a high-profile football game to attend.  This year it was #6 UT v #8 ND, in Austin.  The stadium was still known as Texas Memorial Stadium, but had recently undergone improvements, and on this particular day, the seats were filled to capacity.  Who could doubt it?  This was a big game – Texas, coming in with 2 wins on the season, as did Notre Dame.  The two teams met the year before in South Bend, where ND trounced the Longhorns with a score of 55-27. [Quick pause to say that Steve remembers it well, since he was a stones throw from SB at the time, and I made him feel bad about even thinking of attending without me.]  Needless to say, the excitement on this night was in the air – and the expectation of payback? We could almost taste it.

The game was great.  Many of the fans in our area stood, rang their cowbells, chanted “Texas” and “Fight,” when appropriate.  Me?  I joined right in, with one addition.  Scott and John were sitting on the lower two seats, which meant that Steve and I were on the upper two.  This allowed me to stomp my foot loudly on the seat as we cheered and yelled; even better, neither Scott nor John cared that I did.  I’m telling you, it was one of those electric environments that only sports venues can provide, and everyone was on their feet, cheering and yelling.

Well, except this one guy.  And boy, did he let me know it.

At the start of the second half, the game was very close – 14-17, in favor of ND.  (Hey, the internet is good for some stuff like historical box scores).  So, as all good Longhorn fans do, we got back on our feet and started yelling and pounding the seats.  That is until, in one moment of silence after a play, we all heard a voice, coming from a few seats to our right:

“HEY, LITTLE LADY, YOU MIND BANGING ON YOUR OWN SEAT FOR AWHILE?  YOU’RE GIVING ME A HEADACHE!”

Just in case you are wondering, he clearly meant me.

I looked to my right, and saw an older man, maybe in his 70’s, Texas Longhorn cap on his head, glaring at me with what can only be termed a “Get off my lawn!” scowl.  My response was somewhat unexpected:  completely embarrassed, I turned my head toward the field, and sat down on my seat, silent.  (It happens).  His words seemed to hang in the air.  Scott, feeling my shock, tried to lighten the mood.  He turned around from his seat, and casually reminded me, “Well, you could always tell him that technically you are banging on your own seat.  And he should try sitting in front of you!”

But not much helped my mood.  In fact, his outburst made the yelling from others worse.  As you can imagine, the nearby fans more than made up for my missing voice the next two quarters.  But, despite a significantly valiant effort, our Horns lost the game, 27-24, in the last-minute of the game.  We left the stadium – me, significantly humbled and dejected, other fans more boisterous but equally downcast.  And I certainly didn’t make eye contact with the man who yelled at me.

The season continued, and I remained energetic, but quiet.  I just didn’t want to get so worked up that I was scolded again.  So, there I sat, timidly (don’t laugh), through each of the next two home games.

Then came the last game of the season – the big rivalry with Texas A&M.  Nothing compares to a rivalry, and at the time, the Horns had two:  The TX/OU game in October in Dallas, and the home/home series against Texas A&M.  Always – and I mean always – a great game, when anything can happen.  On the field, and off.

As Steve and I made our way to our seats, someone reached out and grabbed my arm.  It was him, and I stared, wide-eyed, wondering what I had done now.  “Little Lady, I want to make sure we talk before the end of the game. I have something for you.”  I looked him in the eye, a little confused, but answered, “OK.”  Then  I made my way to our seats.  He reminded me again at halftime as we passed to go to the concession stand.  Steve and I were both curious by this time.

We cheered the entire game (me, still a bit reserved so as not to offend).  And our cheering paid off – in what can only be described as a solid thumping, the Horns beat the Aggies 51-15, earning the right to meet Nebraska in the first ever Big 12 Championship game the following week.  (The Horns also won that one, something that can never be taken away).

After the game, Steve and I made our way to his seat, and sat down beside him.  What happened next was, at best, unexpected.  He looked at me and said something like this:

“Young lady, a few games ago, I did and said something that was completely out of character for me, and I want to say I am sorry.  It is clear that you are a wonderful fan, and you shouldn’t have to quiet your enthusiasm.”  (or something like that)

Then he reached into his pocket and brought out a card, with his name on it, and handed it to me, with a hug:

L. DeWitt Hale, attorney

(home address)

And such became a wonderful friendship.  I learned that day that DeWitt is a former Representative from the Texas House, serving in various capacities for almost 42 years.  His heart, like mine, led him to fight for better education and equal rights for all.  You can read more about him HERE.  Over the years, we became pen pals; we sometimes traded gifts; he grew to love the kids, and showed it by sharing some of his prized coin collection with them.  When the Longhorns went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in history (2005), we shared pictures with him; and when the Longhorns won the National Championship in 2006, we had something new to celebrate!

Mr. Hale lost his beloved wife, Carol, in 2008, and eventually, it became difficult for DeWitt to attend the games himself.  Our family, too, found that attending all of the games was, at best, difficult, and our time in Austin diminished.  When we did attend, I would make sure to talk with DeWitt’s daughter and grandchildren, who were the light of his eyes.  When Texas was invited to the National Championship again after the 2009 season, we had hopes that all of us could travel to the game together.  However, those dreams became impractical for lots of reasons.  Steve and I dropped our season tickets during the 2015 season, finally admitting giving in to the inevitable….we will likely not be season ticket holders again.

DeWitt is still around; no doubt having in-depth and meaningful discussions with his children and grandchildren.  It’s funny, I haven’t seen him in years, but he remains in my heart every time we sing “The Eyes of Texas.”  I miss that man.  I miss the experience of talking with him.  He is a wealth of knowledge and widsom.  And he made me a better person.

___________________________________________________________

In my last blog post, I wrote about listening to understand, and not to reply (Stephen Covey).  That thought applies here as well.  Both DeWitt and I have had a chance to listen to each other, after what many would call a rocky start.  And by listening, we opened up a whole new route to friendship.  We accomplished this not by yelling, but by listening and loving.

Somewhere in your life, a situation requires listening, rather than yelling.  Find a way to address it.  Apologize.  Forgive each other.  And always, always, let love be your final word.

 

 

 

 

How do the Faithful Pack a Lunch?

For many years, I made lunches for our daughter, Shannon, to take to school.  As a vegetarian, she sometimes had few options provided in the school cafeteria, and packing her lunches was a good way to make sure she had something she would eat.

Shannon graduated from high school in 2012, and by that time, I had added lunches for Jack to my daily routine.  For each, I made sure that the lunch contained a healthy balance of items:  one main item (like a sandwich or wrap), a veggie, a piece of fruit, chips and a treat.

lunch

Some might question if that is, in fact, a healthy balance; I say yes, given some of the alternative choices we face.  As a junk food junkie myself, I know the temptation to select the quick and the easy.  I don’t want that for my kids (we’ll talk about me another time), so I’m happy to pack the lunch each morning.

For whatever reason, this morning got me thinking about each of the items in the lunch, and how living a faithful life also requires us to select from certain ‘food groups’ every day (or at least every week).  Let’s take a look at the lunch items and see if we can determine an equivalent for leading a faithful life:

  1. The Sandwich:  being the main portion of the lunch, this item keeps us filled and fueled until the next meal.  What’s a sandwich in our spiritual lives?  I’d suggest that worship fills this role.  Once a week, we come together with others to hear a message, learn more about God and our relationship with God – to praise and to proclaim that which we know is good.  With lunch, some choose turkey over pastrami; some choose a veggie wrap over chicken tortilla wraps.  With worship, some people choose traditional, some like modern or contemporary.  Some prefer live streaming, some come in person.  Whatever the choice, the meaningful service hold us over until the next week; but alone, it’s not enough.  What else do we need?
  2. The Vegetable.  Yes, I know.  Many of us would not choose to include a vegetable for our lunch.  Yet, each day, I make sure I put carrots, or green peppers or cucumbers in Jack’s lunch sack.  Vegetables are those lunch items that need a little more chewing; they are often crunchy, needing more time to digest than some food items.  The equivalent in our spiritual lives, I think, is bible study.  No, not because the Words is hard to digest;  when we read and strive to understand the Word, we are pondering and listening, and learning.  Reading the Word, and understanding it, takes time – just like eating the crunchy vegetables sometimes takes time.
  3. The Fruit.   You’re waiting for me to make some kind of lame connection to the apple, aren’t you?  Instead, I’m going to point you to Galatians 5:22-23:  “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Packing a piece of fruit in our lunch reminds us that there are ‘fruits’ we gain from living a faithful life.
  4. The Chips.  Let me be the first to say, this is a hard one for me.  I often go overboard on chips.  But adding chips to the meal brings a variety, and adds a bit of tasty salt to the mix.  Wait – you ask – isn’t salt bad for you?   Yes, it can be, but not the way Matthew uses it in The Message, MT 5:13.  In that verse, Jesus says, “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  Using salt – and chips – sparingly when we pack our lunch, that’s the key.  We add chips and salt to flavor the rest of the meal – the worship, the bible study, the fruits of the Spirit.
  5. And finally, the Treat.  This morning, I packed the Boy Scout Trail’s End brand of chocolate covered popcorn.  Soon, I’ll switch to Girl Scout cookies.  Often, I pack graham crackers and nutella spread.  The lunch just isn’t complete without that last item.  In comparison, I don’t think a life of faith is complete without relationships with other people.  We read in Genesis 1:18 “It is not good that the man shall be alone.”  And so God created humanity, and gave Adam a partner to share life, and it was only after God created humanity that it is written “and it was very good.”

That treat in the lunch is not meant to be eaten alone; when we live a life of faith, we want to share the joys of that life with others.  We share by faith and by actions – loving others, serving others, loving God, serving God.

That’s what I call balancing a faithful life.  And I think about it every morning, when I pack Jack’s lunch.

From the Scoring Table

This may not come as a surprise, from someone who graduated UT with an accounting degree:  When given the opportunity, I keep score at Jack’s basketball games.  Most of the parents from Jack’s teams (basketball or baseball) know why:  Keeping the book keeps me from yelling from the seats too often and too loudly.  Keeping the book helps keep me calm, and rational, and really makes me focus on all aspects of the game.

OSU Basketball Scorer

I enjoy keeping score, which I only do in the rec league.  From the scorer’s table, I get a unique view of travels, and steals, and the often missed/improperly called foul.  From the scorer’s table, I can hear coaches and assistants planning strategies before the game, and during time outs.  At the scorer’s table, you’ll often see me smile when I overhear the boys ‘encouraging’ each other with heated commentary.

At the scorer’s table, I meet people.  There are always two of us – one keeping the book, and one working the clock.  Many of the league refs know by now that I do not like to keep the clock.  The pressure is just too much on the clock, and the action is so visible- turn it on, turn it off, make sure you turn the arrow, and my favorite – was that a 2 or a 3?  Sure, the more you keep the clock, the easier it is; I’d just as well keep the book.

 Keeping the book relaxes me.  I have a system for Coach Nick – written numbers in the quarter, and beside the player’s name means a shot was taken and made; zeros mean a 2 pointer was taken and missed; triangles mean a 3 pointer was missed; circle with a line through means foul shot made for 1 point; circle underlined means missed foul shot.  Throughout the columns, you’ll find my R’s, T’s, S’s and A’s:  Rebounds, Turnovers, and Steals…..and the ever illusory Assist.

Let me tell you, if this Sweeney gives credit for an assist, that player rocks.

See, an ‘assist’ in basketball is one of the most subjective statistics in basketball.  Assists are granted completely at the judgment of the scorekeeper (that would be me).  There is no formal definition of the ‘assist.’  The NBA Statistician’s Handbook states that ‘A player is credited with an assist when the player makes, in the judgment of the statistician, the principal pass contributing directly to a field goal (or an awarded score of two or three points)‘.   That is, two things need to happen:  first a pass is made from one player to another; and then, the second player makes a shot that goes in.

burke assist

I’m very stingy on handing out assists, and I feel so judgmental about it.  I guess that’s the one thing I don’t like about the scoring table – there is a point where I watch refs and coaches and players act as ‘judge’ for others, by applying the rules of basketball as they see from their position on the court.  And I really don’t like to judge.

I know of another table where there is no judgment, only forgiveness.  How I wish every table could be like the welcoming communion table, the open table to which Christ invites each and every one of us.  At this table, we recognize that God gave us the ultimate assist by giving us God’s son, Jesus Christ. God passed Christ to us, and it’s up to us to carry the ball to the basket by sharing Christ with others.

And this month, we all get to add a beautiful scoring to our book of life:

 Let’s make it a star, for the ultimate assist God has given to us in the form of a baby, come to save the world.  (MT 2:9b-10; LK 2:10-14)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

What’s Your Station?

I have a short commute to my office.  That usually doesn’t sit well with those who endure traffic, sometimes for hours, each day.  But it’s true – generally, I’m in my car less than an hour a day.

Whether the commute is long or short, we might share a common dilemma:  What shall I listen to on my drive to work?  How will I listen to it – on radio, by smartphone, or CD?

When it comes to car music, I’m old fashioned.  I like radio.  My first car was a Ford Mustang (brown, with a hatchback to carry the bass guitar and amplifier) – the buttons were hard to push, and I programmed mostly Southern Rock, 80’s pop music and classic rock on the stations.

old car radio

Time passes, and cars change.  Today, I drive a Subaru Outback (grey, still with hatchback for the boy’s equipment for numerous activities).  And the radio in the Subaru has a more technological feel to it:

new car radio

But I noticed the other day – we still have those buttons, numbered 1-6, to store our favorites, the old standby stations that we can access instantly, depending on our mood or circumstances.  Yes, automakers have expanded the number of stations that can be stored, creating FM1, FM2 and even FM3.  I’m content with just the AM and FM, though.  Too much decision when I am behind the wheel of the car leads to distraction; and distraction leads to veering; and veering leads to – well, you get the picture.  That Subaru has a few dings in it.

I was changing the stations the other day, and for some reason, I imagined that each selection was a book of the Bible.  I pulled over safely, wrote down my thought, and gently eased back into traffic, knowing that I would one day finish that thought.

The question is:  If certain radio stations bring a certain comfort, are there books of the Bible that bring the same feeling?  I say yes.  So I want to ask you:  What’s Your Station?  Here are the top six I find myself pulled to at any time (in order of the settings on my car radio).

  1. Christian Radio.  Now, I’d like to say that I select this every time I get behind the wheel; alas, I do not.  I’d like to say instinct calls me to play this one in every car ride.  Again, no.  But for those times when I really need to hear the Gospel; whether I am feeling upbeat and thankful, or whether I am anxious and concerned, I choose button #1.  Once I do, I almost always feel like I have just left a Sunday morning worship service, and my heart is lifted.  Button #1 Bible twin:  The Gospel Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Acts.
  2. 92.5FM:  Lone Star Classic Rock.   lonestar925                   You know the tunes here – classics from Boston, Kansas, Styx, BOC, The Who, Skynyrd, and the ever-present Beatles.  These are the old standby’s – the ones I love to go to – at any time.  This is the music we taught (and continue to teach) to Shannon and Jack.  Kind of like the traditional Bible Stories.  They are comforting; they remind me of a foundation that was laid years ago; and I know all the words.  Button #2 Bible Twin: The Bible Stories I Learned when Growing Up.  The Classics.
  3. 99.5 The Wolf/Country Radio. 995 the wolf                                                I listened to quite a bit of country music in college and post graduation.  And I still do, occasionally.  There are all kinds of lists on the web that tell us why we should listen to country music, and most of them include ‘it’s relatable’ as a reason. There are country songs for every emotion:  happy, sad, angry, disappointed, anxious, or jubilant.   So, too, is the Book of Psalms.  150 Psalms, written by at least 7 authors over a period of at least 900 years (and here you thought David wrote all of them…..no more than Willie Nelson wrote every country song!).  In the Psalms, we find the ‘relatable’ context in the Bible – if you feel it, there is a Psalm for it.  Really.  Button #3 Bible Twin: the Psalms.
  4. 1080 AM – News Radio/Traffic and Weather on the 8’s.  krldThis isn’t ‘talk news’ radio – not the dial in, discussion type.  This is 15 minute chunk of what’s going on in the day.  Short little previews, with regular weather and traffic updates to keep me on the right track.  Bible twin?  Proverbs, of course:

    The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

    for gaining wisdom and instruction;
        for understanding words of insight;
    for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
        doing what is right and just and fair;
    for giving prudence to those who are simple,[a]
        knowledge and discretion to the young—

    Think of this as a “Things my Dad taught me” book.  While we traditionally attribute this book to the wisdom of Solomon, it’s likely that his sages, counselors and other persons actually did the writing.  Even so, Proverbs gives us wonderful direction and caution signs, much like the News and Weather station.  Read a few – you’ll see what I mean! (Don’t take Central Expressway – use an alternate route)  Button #4 Bible Twin:  Proverbs.

    5.  105.3 The Fan/Sports Talk Radio.  1053 the fan      You had to know I’d end up here at some point.  Let me be clear:  Sports is not a religion – there is no transformation, no redemption.  We can get into that discussion later.  As this relates to Bible, though, we find Paul’s letters surrounding us with imagery of athleticism:  2 Tim 2:5 (competition); Phil 3:14 (push to the prize); 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (athletes running the race); 2 Tim 4 (fought the good fight, run the race).  I’m certainly not going to say that when I listen to my FanFave @BenRogers and @SkinWade  ben&skin, I pull over and start reading the letters of Paul.  But I find it interesting just how many times I hear something on 105.3 that reminds me of Paul’s imagery of athletes finishing the race.  Button #5 Bible Twin:  Letters of Paul.

    6.  You may be surprised to learn that Button 6 is not pre-programmed.  That’s because sometimes I like to try something new, and I use this button to save a new station I might find with the scan button.  You may have one of those buttons – scans through all of the local antennae and pushed the strongest ones out to you.  I use it a lot when I am driving long distances, or when I am unsure of radio stations in certain areas of Texas.  And, while the ‘scan button’ may not have a Bible Twin, I do hear a comparison with the Holy Spirit.  John 3:8 (NIV) reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  When we push our own ‘scan button,’ we’re listening for those top five or six places where the Holy Spirit nudges us.

    Whether your commute is long or short; whether your car has an old-fashioned radio or the snazzy new technology – choose your stations wisely.  I’m sure you’ll hear God in many of them, if you are listening.

    [photo and logo credits from Google Images]

The Organized Mind

“Mom, hold on, I need to organize my binder.”

Music  to my ears.

You see, while my desk may not always show it, and while the yard might not win the “Yard of the Month” award in any given month, I am, at heart, an organized person.  Those who know me are familiar with the Franklin Planners I rarely leave behind.  I try to have one for each season, because, after all, our binder colors have to match the color of the leaves and flowers.

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I suppose I come by this naturally.  My mother, bless her heart, labels everything, even the laundry baskets:  Whites, Darks and Colors.   I never have to ask where something is when we visit them in Arkansas; what I am looking for is in a logical place, properly labelled, every time.

When I truly evaluate my habits, though, I have to admit, I only want to APPEAR organized.  Inside, sometimes, my mind is mush, and I can’t remember where I parked my car.  Really.  I once spent about 1 ½ hours with a dear friend who drove me around the Dallas Fort Worth Airport, looking for my misplaced car.  We found it exactly where I left it.  I really want to be the person who remembers to lay out her clothes the night before, and have certain days for laundry, grocery shopping, and errands.  At least I think I do.

So really, why all this effort to appear organized?  I like my data, and research shows that multitasking and upkeep of the perfectly organized life are actually harmful to us. Daniel J. Levitin, in his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, shares that multitasking and over emphasis on organization actually increases the stress hormone cortisol, increases the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, and makes us less productive overall.

What’s the answer?  As you might expect, I find comfort in the Bible, this time in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 28-34 (NIV):

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Truth:  Stay focused on God, the ultimate multitasker.  Taking this to heart, I can know that whatever the day brings, God will provide answers.  Getting rid of the mental clutter, to make sure my head is focused on the important things, getting out of my own way – that’s the answer.

Maybe I should write that verse down in my planner, as a daily reminder……

Lessons from the Candy Jar

Outside my church office, on a desk where volunteers gather during the week, there sits a candy jar.  The church staff takes turns keeping it filled, so that visitors and volunteers who meet with us can share a tasty treat on their way out the door.

candy jar

Over the last year, I’ve noticed a few things about the candy jar, and I’d like to share these observations with you now:

  1. Left over candy isn’t very welcoming. After Halloween last year, I brought in my left over candy that didn’t get claimed by the neighborhood kids.  I couldn’t understand it – the sour bites looked good from the outside.  It wasn’t until I tried one myself that I learned the sourness was just awful.  I mean, really awful.  Our guests deserved better.

This lesson can be applied to other areas of life, too.  Our classes, our business presentations, our families:  everything works better when we give out thoughtful attention.  In other words, if we aren’t prepared for class on Sunday mornings, are we asking our class members to eat left over candy?

  1. People have favorites, but they are often pleasantly surprised with variety. I’ll admit it:  I love Almond Joy bites.   They remind me of summer months, visiting my grandmother in Arkansas, and walking to the convenience store with my sisters, quarter in hand, to buy an Almond Joy.   There was nothing about that smooth taste I didn’t like:  the coconut, the dark chocolate, the almonds.  Given a choice, I’d choose Almond Joy candy bars every time.  But every once in a while, Almond Joy was out of stock, and I had to choose something else.  That was when I learned that variety can be a good thing.

Sometimes we get in that habit with our Sunday class planning.  We know what our classes like, and we don’t want to change.  How many times have I heard that comment!?  But maybe – just maybe – the class members want a change.  Maybe, with a little creativity and planning, we can mix things up and put those York Peppermint Patties in the candy jar.  When we put YPP in the jar, our guests are pleasantly surprised and remember that life is about a lot more than just Almond Joy, day after day.  Those York Peppermint Patties are devoured before the end of the day on Sundays!

Maybe your class really likes Adam Hamilton DVD’s.  But perhaps a short 4 week devotional on a particular theme is in order.  Maybe your class likes studying the books of the Bible in detail; but perhaps setting aside time to see film versions of those books can bring a new perspective.  Give your class variety in class programming.  Email me at cathy@cumc.com if you want help with that.

  1. Not everyone can eat peanuts. I am not sure the science of it all, but all of these peanut allergies have really exploded in the last 20 years or so.  As a result, we need to be aware that not everyone likes peanuts, and in some cases, peanuts are life threatening.

That brings an interesting perspective to how we select the candy.  Likewise, we should be aware of ‘peanut allergies’ in our classes.   Are there individuals who are going through a difficult time, and need our prayer and attention on days other than Sunday mornings?  Did someone inadvertently ‘serve someone a peanut’ not realizing there was an allergy?

The point here is in the solutions:  we won’t know if there is a peanut allergy in the room if we don’t allow time for everyone to speak.  We won’t know if there is a peanut allergy if the only time we are together is one hour a day on Sunday morning.  It’s only when a person is comfortable in a relationship, when a bond of trust has been formed, when we spend time with people, and when we listen, that we truly understand the reason that someone doesn’t eat peanuts.  More importantly – when we listen and understand – we might even show compassion the next time we select the candy, and offer an alternative for those with a peanut aversion.

  1. Many people (myself included) feel a need to sneak a treat. “I shouldn’t, but I will.”   “This is something I need today.”  Or, even better, the silent, unspoken word, as the lid barely clangs against the glass jar upon opening and closing.  Maybe no one will notice.  That candy jar has heard it all – spoken and unspoken, the guilt and the excitement, the disappointment that the last of the ‘good stuff’ has been taken.

I can’t help but think that what we yearn for in the candy jar can always be delivered in a talk with God.  “I need you today.”  “I’m not going to talk, but I just need to listen.”  “These are my favorites.”    I’m not in any way distracting you from sharing the candy in the jar; I just want to remind you that, like the love and grace God offers, the jar is there unconditionally.  We love you, and God loves you.  Take the candy – like, God’s love, it’s there for you, any time you need it.

You Know Where to Find Me

Having spent one week sick in bed, and another week in Santa Fe at the hospital with my husband, Steve, I wanted to have some special time with our son, Jack, when we returned to Dallas.  Under normal circumstances, Steve and I are not “movie-goers.”  We choose to wait for movies to appear on instant video or on demand, watching from the comfort of our own home, and with the ability to click “pause” when needed.  Even when we dated in college, we rarely spent our times in a movie theater; personal preferences, I guess?

Our son Jack, however, really likes to see movies on the big screen.  So, upon our return, and while Steve continued to recuperate, I promised a trip to the theater to see “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”  If I’m going to pay a lot of money to see a movie in a theater, it’s going to be a high action movie, with great stunts and visual effects!

Mi Rogue Nation

I was especially interested in the opening scene, shown above.  Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) was determined to stop the ‘rogues’ from stealing a large pallet of nuclear weapons.  He was so determined, in fact, that he ran down the runway, jumped onto the aircraft, and latched himself onto the door, all while the aircraft was lifted into the air at amazing speed.  Hunt had no choice but to hold on, waiting for his partner, Benji (played by the ever charming and funny Simon Pegg), to open the door by way of improbable technology.

Of course, the door opens.  Hunt needed help, Benji heard him, and opened the door.  I don’t know how that happened; the details are far lost on me.  What I do know, however, is that Hunt had faith in his friend, and his friend pulled through.

Watching Hunt hang on, while the plane rose to cruising heights at speeds faster than I can even imagine – I realized that’s the kind of month I had in July.  I just had to hang on, knowing life would one day be normal again.  In the meantime, though, I had faith in my friends, and that God was my companion.  I knew that eventually, the door would open and I would get a long overdue breather.

Later in the movie, coincidentally in the final scene, Ilsa Faust (British undercover, played by Rebecca Ferguson) looks at Hunt and declares, “You know where to find me.”  Her line is a play on a previous scene in the movie, which I will not detail here, lest I spoil the movie for you.

The concept of “You know where to find me,” though – that line brings the intro scene for me to full circle.  See, when I think of hanging on, despite incredible odds and difficult circumstances, I can’t help but look for God, and know I’ll find him.

In the Gospel of Matthew 28:20b, Jesus reminds us “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”  Jesus, Son of God, is there with us, as we hang on, and as we ask for comfort.  God is there, all the time, working with us and through us to bring on the peace that passes all understanding.  And God is there, working through friends, who open the door for us when we ask.

I’m thankful that God is with me as I hang on.  I’m thankful to each one of our friends who sat ready and able to open the door, and who took our hands, ready to pull us in from the rushing winds and climbing heights of our troubling month.

“You know where to find me.”  Yes, I do, God.  Not only do I find you in prayer and solitude, but I find you in the lives of friends who open the door when we need shelter the most.

Amen.

How to get an Acura MDX to Santa Fe…..Have Faith.

July 2015…a tough month for the Sweeneys, ending with Steve as a passenger on a careflight ride from Raton, NM to Santa Fe.  He had been hiking on the Philmont Scout Camp, with the scout troop, and contracted pneumonia along the way.

We had a lot of logistics to consider, but the one I would like to focus on today is the story of the car.  Steve drove half of the troop in his Acura MDX to the camp and now we were challenged with two things:  getting the scouts home, and getting the car home.

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Boy Scouts have a hard rule that a scout must be 18 or over to drive other scouts.  None of those in the troop were over 17.  Even so, we hoped we could obtain a waiver so the 17 year olds could drive the car back to Dallas.  No such luck.

Still, the scouts needed to get home, since they arrived in Steve’s car. Amazingly enough, another troop from Dallas was leaving the same day as our troop. And amazingly, there were three spots available for extra passengers.

At Philmont, the staff calls this ‘A Philmont thing’. I call it a God thing, and the rest of the story helps you understand why.

Thankfully, we have many friends on Facebook.  Since Cathy had been posting, some friends had offered help. We connected with a friend from our Longhorn Band days who lives and conducts band programs in Cimmaron, NM (Pam).

Pam had resources who were willing to drive two cars to Santa Fe for shopping.  But the best resource was a woman who worked the front desk at Philmont, who was out of town for a few days.

Cathy was prepared to drive up to Philmont to get the car.  At the last minute, Pam reached front desk friend (Dede) on her first morning back to Philmont.

As Pam relayed the problem to Dede, Dede covered the phone mouthpiece, and asked the group congregated in the lobby if anyone was headed to Santa Fe that morning.

One man stepped forward.  “I am,” said Elder Anderson, a chaplain with the camp, representing the LDS faith group ( Philmont staffs 2 LDS, 2 Jewish, 2 Catholic, and 2 Protestant.chaplains at the camp).

“I am headed to St. Vincent’s to visit a camper named Steve Sweeney.”

You can guess the rest.  Elder Anderson and his wife, Mary, delivered the car around noon.

Do not try to convince me that God is not real.  I saw God today in the faces of two people who sacrificed time and energy to help their neighbor.  Thank you, Philmont.  Your chaplains give their best so we can feel the love of God around us.  Today, we remember that God is good, because we have lived it.