Thanksgiving is a time to remember and to savor the gifts we have experienced in our lives. When looking closely they are too numerous to count. There are small things like a beautiful sunny day, listening to music that moves us, or taking our dog for a walk. The gifts that mean the most come in the form of the people we cherish, those who have touched us in a deeper way. As I reflected on the litany of people who have enriched and blessed my life, I begin to think about those who have been formational for me, those who have poured into me to nurture my faith and walk with God, and who have helped me to live it out. There are many that come to mind, among them are a couple of pastors about whom I would like to share.
I grew up in an amazing church. It was a church filled with people who genuinely loved each other. They had a special heart for hospitality and welcoming those on the fringes. I, as a neighborhood kid was one of them. They had a special knack for making people feel like they truly belonged, and it seemed to be just a part of who they naturally were. It was really evident in their relationship to the youth. They genuinely welcomed and loved us, nurtured our faith, encouraged our gifts, and included us as part of the church family and their families.. I cannot begin to describe my debt of gratitude when I reflect on that time and those dear people.
One of those people was the Senior Pastor. He was such a godly man. It seemed by looking into his eyes one could genuinely sense the Spirit of God within him. He was compassionate and real. He listened in such a way that made you believe he had all the time in the world and that he really saw you. He impacted me so much through his relationship with God. The closeness he seemed to share with God was palpable. It deepened my desire to experience God like that. His name is Pastor Duane Cross, and I will be forever grateful to him.
Another one of those people was the pastor of Christian Formation, Pastor Paul Barnes. I felt called as a teenager to go into ministry and I spent a year in Ecuador as a short-term missionary where I felt that call confirmed. When I returned home to work for a year before continuing my studies, Pastor Paul took me under his wing, discipled and mentored me. He walked beside me that year, preparing me for ministry, encouraging and affirming my gifts. I am deeply grateful for him because that time really prepared me for my further studies in seminary and in entering the ministry.
I know I am who I am today in part because of these two godly pastors who believed in me, nurtured my faith, and who reflected a God who loved deeply and drew near. So this Thanksgiving as I reflect on all I am thankful for, I will remember these two pastors whom God used in a special way in my life. To express my gratitude, I will be giving a donation to Ministry Mentors as a way to honor them. I encourage you to think about the pastors who have impacted you, who have nurtured your faith and walked beside you. I hope you will consider also giving a donation to Ministry Mentors in honor of them.
God bless you as you reflect on God’s gifts to you this Thanksgiving season.
To donate follow this link: http://donatenow.networkforgood.org/ministrymentors
Life is an unexpected journey. It is filled with ups and downs and so many twists and turns. Sometimes we feel so lost, only able to see right in front of us. At other times we know we are right where we are meant to be. Our lives are made up of so many moments: moments that fill our hearts with joy and and moments when we can’t stop crying. There are times when we are touched so deeply,and others when we just feel empty. There are days when we feel strong and assured, and others when we feel weak and wonder how we can go on. There are moments that we long to pass quickly and moments that we want to treasure forever. Life is an unexpected journey filled with so much. When we can embrace it all and learn from each part of the journey, we not only experience life more fully and find healing and meaning, but we also have more to offer to those around us. When we embrace all that life offers us it creates a deep well within, that not only refreshes us but allows others to drink as well. Viewed in this way, life is an unexpected journey, filled with so many gifts.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
― Julian of Norwich
Lord, you have said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) It is so hard to fathom a love so deep and wide and high as that. It is hard to take it in. Please make it possible for us to do so. Help us to believe it and to make it part of us. May the reality of it be as our own breath, flowing into our very cells merging with who we are. And may it be so much a part of us, that we see ourselves as you do, as your beloved. May it be so much a part of us that we reflect you, exuding your love to each and every person we meet. May we forgive as we have been forgiven, be merciful, as you have shown us mercy. And when we pause to contemplate your lavish grace, may it spill over from our gratitude and spill onto all those around us. May your love, mercy, and grace live in and through us to all, as you call them beloved too. And in doing so, may we recognize that we are all a part of one another.
I love the following quote from Nadia Bolz- Weber. There is great substance in it and the possibility for transformation, if we can hear it and remain open.
“The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.”
Lent is a time of introspection, a time for gazing into the mirror of our own soul. It isn’t comfortable, but it is necessary. When we gaze into the mirror in Lent, we do so to see ourselves as we really are. We notice the flaws and blemishes, and even the scars that make up who we really are. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to look at these things. It would be so much easier to look in the mirror and to only see what is good and lovely and appealing. It is humbling to look and see the ugliness that exists in us too. But it is in through seeing those things, that we can find forgiveness, healing and transformation.
Sometimes when I gaze into the mirror, I become absorbed with my flaws. It is so easy for me to get down on myself, and struggle to forgive myself for not doing it better. What I forget is what the Lord sees as He stands there looking at me. He looks at me through the eyes of grace and a love that withholds nothing and transforms everything. How moving it is that. He looks at us through the eyes of grace and a love that withholds nothing and transforms everything. My blemishes lose the focus as His love enfolds me. This love and grace forgives, heals, and transforms me and us into something new, even as we look into the mirror. This changes everything. Though I will never be good enough, though I will never be without flaws, His love and grace are enough. They cover me and change me, even the very image I see in the mirror. He created us in His own image and He continues to do so, thanks be to God. Just when I start to get downhearted, the Lord reminds me of the depth of His love, and that I am one of His own. He sees me through that love, as one gazes at their beloved. This beloved Lord lives in me, and is even reflected in this imperfect me. The blemishes though part of the story are not the whole story. His love and grace abound, cover me and transform me even now. How sweet is His love, His love, which even frames what I see as I gaze in the mirror of my own soul.
Paul says in Ephesians 3:18,19, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (NRSV)
One of the most life-giving statements ever said to me is “Remember to Whom You Belong.” It was said to me during one of the lowest points in my life. I felt broken with little sense of hope. My life felt shattered. I received that statement like a cup of cold water on a hot and weary day, like one parched with thirst. I was thrown a life line to cling to in that statement and I hung onto it.
Through the years, the truth of that statement has allowed me to keep going when I thought I couldn’t take another step. It has enabled me to put one foot in front of the other through countless trials along the way . The truth of that statement has also gifted me with countless joy and deep inner contentment which is impossible to describe, for how can one put into words how much it means to journey with God alongside of you loving you.
“Remember to whom you belong.”I have carried the truth of that statement in my heart and spirit for almost 30 years. Thank you Jolene. You have been one of the greatest gifts I have known in this life. You are such a wise and beloved friend. Your words reminded me that God uttered those words to me when I was a young child; reminding me that I was God’s child, and that God was raising me. Those words were also a life line then, enough to get me through years of trial, and to also fill me with indescribable joy.
When you feel alone with little to no sense of hope, remember to whom you belong. There are so many things in life that take us to that painful place, heart breaks, loss of every kind, the inability to live out of who we really are, addictions, rejection of others and sometimes even the church. When you are in that place, receive this life line, “Remember to Whom You Belong.” You are so loved by God, just as you are. You are not forgotten. God has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 You are not alone. You are God’s beloved.
“Remember to whom you belong.” Those words uttered to me so long ago, have been more life-giving than I can describe. May they be life-giving to you. And when you come across another in a desolate place, may you pass these words along like offering a cup of cold water on a hot and weary day.