Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reality Check

This past Monday afternoon around 1:30, I walked into our house after volunteering in the art room at Michael's school to discover that we had been burglarized, sometime between 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM. The first sign was the hardest one--the 40" flatscreen Sony TV that Joel had been wanting several years--the one he took an extra job as a TA (Teaching Assistant) for the semester at Emory's theology school to pay for--was gone. I walked out of the house (as one is "supposed" to do when an intruder as been in, just on the off chance that s/he is still there) and called Joel immediately, then the police, but was able to tell by looking through the window that both of our laptops were also gone. When Joel got here (note: faster than he did when I called him almost 12 years ago to tell him I was in labor with Daniel...!), we walked through together and realized they had gone through all of our drawers and stolen all jewelry of value as well, in addition to the Wii and all controllers. Apparently one person (assumed) came in through the back door (not very secure, and perhaps even unlocked, although there were signs that pointed to a possible forced entry) emptied out Adam's soccer bag, and loaded it full of our stuff, then called an accomplice to come for a quick load up. The house behind us is vacant, so we think they may have even taken the stuff out through the back door and over the fence. They could have taken so much more, but they didn't. Either didn't have time, or didn't want to bother with sterling silver or anything that wasn't a guaranteed quick, easy sale. But still...what a pain.

It's been long enough now where the sense of violation is beginning to wear off and the anger is settling in. I'm finally sleeping at night, and we have begun to replace a few things. Thankfully, most of it is either a) replaceable, or b) won't really be missed. The only thing that was hard to lose was Joel's mom's wedding ring. It was fairly valuable as well--18K and some fancy kind of etching on it. Has a name, but I'm not sure what it is. He would occasionally wear it around his neck on a thick, gold chain that was my grandmother's. We lost all of our gold jewelry, which I never wear anymore anyway, but much of it was my grandmother's, so that is a bit of a blow. The ironic thing was that my engagement ring was in the kitchen window because I had been baking bread that morning, and then went to the school to do art, so I just left the ring there. Thankfully, it was still there. Had they taken it, it would have exceeded our insurance limits on jewelry AND we would have wanted to replace it. As it is now, we can take the money we get for the jewelry and use it for a couple of much-needed home repairs / improvements, including a security system, which is the silver lining in this dark cloud.

Friends have been wonderful, offering all types of support, from prayer to computer loans to cash gifts. So as I've reflected on it, it's been a nice reminder of what really is important in life. I've missed my laptop the most, as expected. Sharing one desktop between five computer junkies is not exactly fun or easy! Computer time is rare and frustrating at the same time. I tried to replace my laptop at Best Buy on Wednesday, but realized the hard way that if you buy a Dell through Best Buy, you don't get the awesome Dell customer service. You get the crappy Geek Squad techies. There were issues at startup, and when the customer service nightmare began, I just packed the thing up and ordered from I've already returned the one to Best Buy, narrowly winning the argument about whether or not I was obligated to pay the 15% restocking fee, and happily await my new, blazing fast, mocha brown beauty to arrive from Dell later this week.

We've also already replaced the Wii in the event that they become a "hard to find" item this Christmas as well. That made the boys happy. We're waiting on the TV until we are able to secure the house a bit better and install a security system. Typically our dog Shadow is a security system, but she had thrown up that morning, and I had crated her so she wouldn't get sick all over the house. Poor baby--I know she was going crazy--locked in her crate with a stranger going through our things. She's much more stranger-wary now than she was, and goes NUTS when anyone comes to the door. Hopefully that will subside. She's been a good watchdog for sure, but I've noticed she seems more on edge now than before. I'm just so very thankful that nothing happened to her. That would have devastated all of us.

We are recovering rather quickly, all things considered. None of us have had any feelings of being unsafe in our home, because we know that the theft was about our stuff, not about us. None of us have difficulty going to sleep at night, but if I wake up in the night, getting back to sleep as been hard because I start thinking about it and get really, really angry. But even that is finally subsiding, and life is resuming normalcy for us. All in all, we are thankful. Thankful that we are all okay. Thankful that we did have insurance that will cover most of it. And more grateful than ever for the love and support of good friends. Life goes on!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Because she hasn't had the baby yet...

Rachel, that is. My friend Rachel, who is thirty-eight and a bajillion weeks pregnant with child #2, a girl. She "tagged" me to do this thing where I'm supposed to blog about "six uninteresting things about me." It's called a meme. To quote my very pregnant friend, "For those of you who don’t know what a meme is, you can read this site that explains it in detail. Or I’ll just tell you: it’s a bunch of questions someone with a blog answers and then tags some other people with blogs and they answer the same questions and so on and so forth."

So here goes...

1. I was the third top seller of wrapping paper in our band fundraiser when I was in 7th grade. The prize was $25. I think my mom would have preferred to just give me the $25. Now that I'm a mom of fundraisers, I know how she felt.

2. I had a horse named Montana when I was 15. I boarded him with another horse, who was older than dirt, named Rebel, and used to take friends horseback riding after school & in the early morning during the summer. I sold Montana when I was a freshman in college.

3. My favorite movie of all time is St. Elmo's Fire, not so much because it was great acting, but because I just loved the movie.

4. My favorite number is 8--symmetry and all that.

5. I was one of the two drum majors of our 150 member band in high school, the Dublin High School Fighting Irish Band. I did this my junior and senior years.

6. My handiest skill is my ability to power nap. I do it best while watching afternoon PBS. I can be dead tired at 3:30, lie down on the sofa to watch some PBSKids, and be totally refreshed by 4:00. I often watch PBSKids without the kids around just so that I can nap. Some people find that odd. I don't. They are really good shows, especially Arthur, Fetch, and Cyberchase.

I am tagging Joel, David, and Marci. I don't know if they will participate or not, but I'm giving it a shot. Hope they don't let me down!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

I did it.

I actually did it. I scraped the "Life is good" sticker off the back of the mom mobile. I scraped David's "God bless the people of EVERY nation" off from below my "COEXIST" sticker. (Sorry David. Maybe you can send me a new one post Nov 4th? ;-) And removed the READ sticker from Decatur's Little Shop of Stories. And I put my first EVER sticker endorsing a political candidate on my car. Obama '08.

Those who know my own personal leanings might not think that's so unusual. However, those who know the history of the political discussions in our marriage totally understand.

It is a monumental thing.

For the first few years of our marriage, it was because we often (always?) disagreed politically. And I didn't put a sticker for Clinton on my car the first time because I didn't want to ride in his car with a sticker for the opposing candidate on it. (Let it be said that I would not have put a sticker for Clinton on my car for his second term...I remember abstaining that year. Joel says I voted for him. Either way, we lived in SC at the time, so if I did vote for him, I knew it was a token vote, and that it would make no difference in the long run.) So we just agreed that stickers supporting particular candidates were off limits. Over the past few years, however, I have put "political" stickers on my car, just not any supporting candidates. It's been quite clear which way I lean. But they have been stickers that proclaim messages on which we agree, so it's been fine.

And we might agree on this upcoming election--I suspect we will. But Joel will still not openly declare who has his vote--not even to me--and given his position as pastor at Rehoboth, that's probably a good thing. He wants to see the candidates go head to head in debate and listen to what each has to say about the issues. And I respect that. He's a Myers Briggs ENTJ, and that's the way he rolls. I, on the other hand, am an ISFJ, and I roll differently. John McCain seems rather desperate, and I hated the way that he ended his speech the other night with "Fight, fight, fight, fight..." ad nauseum. (Uh, John--have you ever heard of Jesus? Put down your sword, Peter?) Sarah Palin reminds me of a south Georgia redneck, only she's dresses nicer and sounds different. My gut tells me that we differ dramatically when it comes to ideologies, and I don't need to hear them go head to head with my community organizer of choice, Barack Obama. I've supported him from day one, because I like what he says and I like how he says it. I like how he presents himself, and I trust that four years of Obama will be far better for our country than four years of McCain. It's as simple as that.

I sent for a "free one" from, and it sat on the table in our kitchen for a while. (I cut the little "moveon" tagline off the bottom because I do know and respect that Joel doesn't care for that group.) Then I casually asked him if he'd be okay with my putting it on the van. He seemed nonplussed by it, and muttered something like "Sure." And it sat there through both conventions, just as I sat through both candidates' speeches. And when the balloons and confetti were all swept away, when I had heard bits and pieces of both conventions, and listened in full to both Obama and McCain, I did it.

I put the Obama sticker on the van. And it feels good.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Parenting 201

I'm not a perfect parent. Let me just say that up front. And I know that Joel & I can do the best job that we are capable of doing, and yet our sons might make poor choices that lead them down a destructive or harmful path. We don't always give them the time that they need or deserve, and we often put our own needs before theirs. But at least 350 days out of the year, they know, without a doubt, that one of us will tuck them into bed at night. They know that one of us will be there to get them off to school. They know that one of us will be there to share the evening meal with them. And they know that either of us is there at a moment's notice if they have emergency or a need that simply cannot wait. They know that. And we live that. I pray that the job we are doing has been / will be enough to keep them safe and on the "right track," and lead them into a satisfying adult life in which they find meaning in what they do, and happiness with the one/s whom they share their life.

With that said, I now quote Republican Vice-Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin: "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents," Sarah and Todd Palin said in the brief statement. "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," they added.

Bristol Palin is 17 years old, and pregnant. Not really a newsworthy thing in today's world...unless your mother is the token female conservative on the Republican's presidential ticket. Then it's on every news website. I found out from a facebook status message.

My first thought is that I feel sorry for this young, soon-to-be-wed mother and her soon-to-be-husband. I have had friends and family members who have begun their families in a similar way, and it's not easy. And while I know that the parents are not to blame for the indiscretions of their children, I can't help but wonder what this child's life has been like for the past few years. Who has been home for her, listening to her talk about her day and sharing laughs with her as they make snacks together? Who has tucked her in at night? Who has been signing the test papers and report cards that come home from school? Who has helped her deliver fundraising purchases for her school? Who has taken her back-to-school shopping? Who has tucked her in at night? Who has picked her up from school when the nurse has called saying she's not feeling well?

Maybe the vice-presidential nominee has done all this with her daughter--who knows? But if she has indeed done all (or even some) of the above, as well as run a state government, and stayed up-to-date on world and national politics and situations, then she is, indeed, Wonder Woman.

But I doubt it.

Or maybe Todd Palin, her dad has done between his training and racing in the Iron Dog snowmobiling race (as well as recovering from injuries sustained in said races), and supposedly "taking care of the kids."

I know I might get lambasted for suggesting this, but I wonder...if Sarah Palin had not been so invested in her political career, and Todd Palin not so invested in his snowmobiling (he's the reigning co-champion of the Iron Dog) would things have been different for this young, unwed mother?

When people make a decision to have children, it often means making hard choices. Having one child is hard, having three is harder, and having five, including one with Down's Syndrome, must be even harder. And while I certainly don't believe that one's decision to marry and / or become a parent means that one must surrender all of his or her own dreams or goals, neither do I believe that when once decides to marry and / or become a parent she can continue to pursue individual goals and dreams in the same way that one can as a single person. Entering into a relationship of any kind means compromise and often sacrifice--it's just as simple as that. it doesn't mean LOSING ONE'S SELF, but it does mean working together for the good of the whole--which is often not what feels best to the individual.

I find it terribly disheartening that while Sarah Palin was off pursuing a high-profile political career and promoting her socially conservative agenda (which, I'm sure, includes abstinence-only sex education), and Todd Palin was off being the champion for Alaska's blue collar workers, or off definding his Iron Dog champion title on his snowmobile, their daughter Bristol turned to her boyfriend Levi for companionship, which led to intimacy, which will now lead to marriage at seventeen (because I suspect her parents didn't present her with any other choices...), and I sadly the end, or at least the significant delay, of many of her own hopes and dreams.

Even if Palin were the Democratic VP Candidate, I'd have a really hard time voting for her because I, as a mother myself, want to put the welfare of her 17 year-old daughter over my own political leanings.

But then again...who am I to judge? I just ache for Bristol. Because a road that would have been hard enough without the media attention has been made more difficult because of Sarah Palin's choices to pursue national political service. I pray that Obama and Biden have the decency to downplay this as much as possible. It has enough damaging power on its own without them mentioning it at all.

By the way, with the DNC behind us, middle son Daniel is supporting Obama-Biden with full force now. Thank you, God!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Take Heart!

I had the honor and privilege of leading worship and preaching at North Decatur Presbyterian Church today, and thought I'd post my sermon text. I'd love any comments that readers feel inclined to leave!

"Take heart. Do not be afraid!"

Preached at N. Decatur Presbyterian Church on August 10, 2008

I spent a great deal of time at our neighborhood pool this summer. We’ve always been fortunate enough to have a place to swim in the summers, from the time our boys were tiny until now. And one of my favorite things to watch is the dance that parents do with toddlers as they try to get the comfortable in the water.

Some of them are like Adam, our oldest was. Eager to get in, but cautious. Cautious, but very trusting of Joel or me. He would stand on the edge of the water and we would hold our hands out and he would jump. Just like that. He knew he couldn’t do it alone, but he was confident that we wouldn’t let anything happen to him. He trusted us.

Some of the toddlers that I’ve watched over the years are more like our middle child, Daniel. Daniel is much more of a land creature than a water creature. As a toddler, he was always happier playing around the water, or at most, in the baby pool, than he was in the overwhelming expanse of the big pool.

He needed to feel the pool bottom under his feet while his head was still above water. Daniel was less confident in his own ability to stay afloat, and less trusting that we would keep him from going underwater when we were with him in the “big pool.” His trust in us was, I suspect, overshadowed by his own insecurity in the water.

And then there are those kids who are more like Michael, our youngest. Michael is, I am quite certain, part fish. From the time he could walk, I could not keep him away from the water. The summer before he turned two, he was forever wandering away to the big pool, leaving me frantically chasing after him, abandoning his brothers, then 3 and 5, who were happily playing in the kiddie pool.

We finally had to get one of those bathing suits with the floaties built IN so that I could manage them all around the water by myself on those hot summer days at our neighborhood pool in Greenville, SC. I realized he could swim one summer at the beach when he jumped into the water before we had a chance to get his suit on. Splash…brief moment of parental panic…wait & see.....Hey! He’s doing it!

He was so comfortable in the water that he didn’t even need to trust us. He just reveled in the refreshing freedom of being in the water.

We all have our own different comfort levels with the water, don’t we? It’s an amazing thing. Too much of water can lead to fear, uncertainty, even tragedy. Not enough water can lead to thirst, desperation, even death.

Todays’ text takes us to the water…to the rough water of the Sea of Galilee.

Matthew 14:22-33
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid."

28Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." 29He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, " You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

The story of Jesus calming a storm is a familiar gospel story, found in some form in all four gospels. And if you follow the larger denominational news, you are aware that this “boat” analogy has been used several times over the past few years as various people attempt to speak to those of us in the pews.

Former moderator Rick Ufford-Chase told us, in 2004: "We are invited to get in the (water) with Jesus, like those disciples.” He continued by adding, "I want to be part of a church that says 'Yes' and gets into that (water) with Jesus."

In a recent open letter to congregations after the actions of the 218th General Assembly, stated clerk Gradye Parsons told us: “Get into the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die."

For many, the story IS a familiar one. Perhaps even a bit overused. But Jesus calming a storm is in all four of the gospels in some form, so there must be something to it!

Three of the versions of this story—John’s, Mark’s, and here in Matthew-- acknowledge the power of Jesus to transcend the physical by walking on the water. And all four gospels tell of Jesus’ ability to direct the forces of nature by calming the storm. Likewise, all four storm accounts place Jesus in the water with his disciples, reminding us that Christ, the ultimate storm-calmer, is indeed in our midst—in the water with US.

But the account of Peter stepping out into the water found in today’s narrative is characteristic only of Matthew. So that’s what I was drawn to look at today. What is it that we can glean from Matthew’s version of this story for our lives in this time and place?

Peter and the disciples find themselves adrift in a boat, amidst rough waters.
It is nighttime.
There are waves crashing around them.
They have drifted away from the shore.
They had gotten in the boat as Jesus had commanded them in v. 22, and then he had left them.
Left them alone to go pray, of all things.

The disciples see a figure walking toward them, seemingly on the water. Jesus senses their fear and says to them, “Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.”

Now, Peter, uncertain that the ghost-like figure walking toward them on the water is, in fact, Jesus, speaks up: “Lord, IF it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

IF it is you. IF. If suggests disbelief, uncertainty. Peter’s not sure that it’s really Jesus out there. But he’s willing to consider that it might be.

Peter has enough faith to know, at least initially, that if Jesus commands him to, he can walk on water.

Jesus commands him, “Come!” So Peter steps out in faith and begins to walk toward him.

But, like all disciple, Peter got distracted. He got distracted by the rough water around him, and doubt crept in.

As the doubt overcame him, he began to sink. And as sank, he called out in faith to Jesus, who caught him and got into the boat with him.

Now…we know that Peter has been marked as one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter has devoted his life to following Jesus.

Peter got INTO the boat because Jesus told him to. Peter stepped OUT on the water because Jesus told him to. In so doing, Peter is simultaneously reminded of both his own weakness, as well as God’s almighty power.

For me, at least, Peter “becomes a mirror in which (we) disciples, ancient and modern, are able to see (our)selves and take heart.” Faith requires stepping out, taking risks, yes.

But we will, from time to time, get distracted by the storm, become frightened, and begin to sink. Matthew reminds us that when that happens, God in Christ is there to catch us and remind us. To remind us who we are—doubters of little faith—and to remind us who HE is--truly the Son of God.

Matthew’s inclusion of Peter in this story provides an understanding for us of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, caught in the gap between faith and doubt. Matthew reassures us that the cycle of faith and doubt is part of what it means to be in the waters with Jesus.

Like Peter, we, too, have been marked as disciples of Christ.
We, too, have been called into the water with Jesus.
We, too, have been marked as God’s own in the waters of baptism.

In this water, we are reminded that Christ is in the midst of us. In this water, we are called to keep our sights, our focus, on Jesus Christ, the Living Word, amidst the storm of life.

In this water of baptism, we are called to trust. We are equipped with all we need to take the risks that come with stepping out in faith.

But like Peter, we doubt. We may take a few tentative steps out of the boat, in faith, but life overwhelms us. Doubt creeps in, and our faith wavers. We call out to Christ for help. And he does. He catches us and calms the storm.

And we profess our faith and our belief once again…until the storm rages again.
And we step out in faith…again.
And we doubt…again.
And we call out…again.
And Christ comes…again.
And we profess…again.

But just how comfortable are we, really, with this cycle of faith and doubt? How comfortable are we, really, with this water—the water of our baptism?

Just as toddlers do with water at the pool in the summertime, so we too react differently to this water—the water of our baptism.

Some of us are cautious but trusting. Some of us are more comfortable relying on our own devices rather than placing our trust elsewhere. And some of us revel in the refreshing freedom that we find in our baptism.

Just how comfortable are we being in the water with Jesus? How comfortable are we stepping OUT in faith, trusting that Christ is in our midst? How comfortable are we in the midst of the storm with our focus honed on Jesus the Christ?

Wherever you find yourself this morning, remember that Christ is present.

Christ is present here in this denomination as we struggle with living into who God is calling us to be, and how God might make us One in Christ.

Christ is present here in this church family amidst the storms of transition and uncertainty.

Christ is present with each of us as we weather the various storms of life—transitions, disappointments, worries, fears, joys, sorrows, losses, illnesses… Christ is here, in the boat with us.

Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God WITH us is here in the water with us.

Christ is with us in the water, and promises to deliver us safely to our destination.

We are in water with Jesus.
We will reach our destination.
There will be a storm.
We will not die.

And he says to us, “Take heart. Do not be afraid!”

Thanks be to GOD for the waters of our baptism that mark us as belonging to God and call us to faith in God and God alone.

As we move forward from this place today, we go knowing that storms may come. But we also go knowing that our confidence and trust is in the one who both calms the storms and leads us into God’s future with hope.

Friday, July 11, 2008

July 11, 1996

No, that’s not a typo. Twelve years ago today, the world lost (in bodily form, anyway) one if its most quirky, witty, and caring members. I’m thinking of you today, Hunter, and need you to know that.

Although your death was imminent that hot summer day in 1996, it still felt like the ground had been knocked out from underneath me when the nurse told me over the phone. Mom and Dad had gone home for an overnight to get haircuts and some fresh clothes—preparing for the influx of Atlanta Olympic athletes and fans soon to hit the city. The nurse’s station had to call Ellen for the name of another family member, but wouldn’t tell her what was going on. In retrospect, I’m sure she knew, but she called me at home to tell me that I needed to call the nurse’s station. “Mr. Patterson expired in his sleep last night.”

Deep breath. Not enough air. Another deep breath. I can’t breathe. God help me.

I called Joel for strength, then called Tom and Calli to let them know they should check in with Mom and Dad soon. And then I called and told my parents that you were gone--probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my 42 years.

But you aren’t gone, and you never will be. Even now, twelve years later, I know you are “with” us. Soaring by on the wings of the neighborhood hawk at times when we need it most, or even just to say hello on an ordinary day—reminding us to stop and enjoy the life that is now. You gave much to us when you were with us, and continue to give to us even now, entering into our daily conversations and our family gatherings, your absence louder than your presence, if that’s possible.

The only lingering, overwhelming sadness that I have now, twelve years later, is that our children—your nieces and nephews—don’t have you in their lives like we wish they did. I know in my heart of hearts that you can see them, and that you know them. But as hard as I have tried to keep you alive for them, I cannot. On the rare occasions they do speak of you, it’s as if you were some oversized, historic figure, not the uncle that I know you wish you could be. There are many reasons why your death seemed unfair, but that one hurts the most.

I wish I could hear you tell me what life is like on the other side. I’m sure it’s far bigger than we can possibly imagine. I wish I knew for sure that we’ll be together again—that our children will have the chance to really know you. But I don’t. While I do know and trust that all is well, and that all WILL be well, I don’t dare imagine death in my mind, lest I limit it to worldly knowledge. But I think I do know, deep within me, that you are still with us. You live on in us—in our memories, in our hearts, and in our lives. Not only through Mom and Dad and Tom and Calli and me, but through the countless number of people whose lives you touched.

You live on in and through and around us. But I sure do wish you were still here. I miss you, brother. See you on the flip side.

Your Baby Sister

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Postscript to "Parental Failure"

For what it's worth, Daniel seemed to be very excited that Obama has clinched the nomination. I'm not sure who he'll eventually support, but I must say that I am rather glad he is only 11 and will therefore not be able to vote. At least we have a few more years to educate him on how to make the best choice...!

Be Still and Know...

Today I was honored to preach and lead worship at Midway Presbyterian Church. It was a wonderful experience, and allowed me to realize how far I have come, how much I have grown, in my pastoral life these past few years, thanks in large part to my role as pastor's wife, not pastor.

The congregation was made up of 31 older white congregants, probably only slightly more women than men. The youngest person there, aside from myself, was probably early to mid-50's. Most of the men wore American flag lapel pens, and those who had served in the armed forces wore their appropriate pins as well. The pew Bible was the NIV, and the hymnbook was not the PCUSA one. The assurance of pardon made some reference to "all who confess their sins will be saved," rather than forgiven. And the comments after my sermon were about 50/50. Half of the folks (men and women) thanked me for the wonderful message. The other half told me just how cute I was. A few people combined those two comments. I was thrilled to hear them all, not because I particularly like to be called "cute" after I preach the Good News, but because each of the comments, whether about my sermon or my looks, were genuine and sincere. I felt very warmly received, and everyone there showed me the love of Christ in the way he or she best knew how.

Had I preached there three years ago, prior to Rehoboth, prior to living with and walking alongside my husband, who has taught me much, these past three years, I would have cringed. Cringed at the overt patriotism in a house of worship, cringed at the choices of worship resources (translation and hymnbook), cringed at the men who called me cute, and been equally offended and put off with the women who did. I would not have hung around and mingled with folks after worship, nor would I have been excited at the prospect of returning, as many encouraged me to do. But thankfully, over the past three years, God has shown me a love for her people that is more open and accepting. She has shown me a love that is less judgmental and more eager to share the love that I have come to know in her with those whom I encounter.

For all of these things, I am grateful. My prayer is that all of God's people will come closer and closer to a love for others that more closely resembles the love Christ has for us. Not just for those that are like we are, but for all of his beloved.

The Sermon: "Be Still and Know"

Psalm 46:1-11

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10"Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Date: September 11, 2001:

A hijacked passenger jet out of Boston crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, tearing a gaping hole in the building and setting it afire.

Minutes later, a second hijacked airliner from Boston, crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and exploded.

An hour later, yet another airliner crashed into the Pentagon, sending up a huge plume of smoke. Evacuation began immediately.

Less than three hours after the first attack, a fourth hijacked jet crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh.

“Be STILL, and know that I am God.”

Date: March 19, 2003, quoting George W. Bush:

“My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.”

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Date: January 15, 2004

They had recently picked up and moved from their home to a new job for him. It was a hard time to move—the boys were 1 and 3, and she was just beginning to feel like she had her body back after giving birth. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, and tells her that he is leaving them. Apparently he “no longer wants to be married.” So she finds herself in a new city, among new friends--away from home and family, with no way to pay rent or buy food. It’s as if the earth changed right under her feet, and it was terrifying. What was she going to do?

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: July 11, 2005

The storm was already beginning to move in, so she wasn’t surprised when their children wanted her to sleep downstairs with them. She let John know that she would join him as soon as they were asleep, and she crawled in bed with their daughter. It had been a long day, and she fell asleep, but was soon awoken by the loudest noise and most jarring feeling of her life. The rafters shook and she trembled as the debris continued to fall. Then all was quiet. Deathly quiet. She ran upstairs and found that the old tree—the one that they had been meaning to cut—had fallen right on their house, right onto their bed where her husband lay. The reality of what had happened hit her like a ton of bricks, and she knew that her life and the lives of their children were forever changed. Her foundation had been shaken to its core. Would she…could she recover?

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: December 8, 2007

Her dad was doing better after the surgery to clear the arterial blockages. It was really scary for a while there. Aneurysm on top of emphysema made for a very delicate health situation. But then her brother Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the prognosis was not good. It seemed that avoiding the doctor all of these years might have caught up with him. And on top of all that, another brother has been diagnosed with yet another form of cancer. Amidst already difficult family relationships, health issues compound the delicate balance. The waters seem to just continue to roar and foam around her…

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: January 8, 2008

She didn’t mind hiking alone, and perhaps her green belt in judo gave her parents a bit of peace when she struck out with only her beloved dog at her side. But when she didn’t return that day, and there was no word from her for the next few days, we all began to suspect the worst. Investigators concluded that hiker Meredith Emerson was abducted by Gary Michael Hilton while hiking with her dog in the mountains of North Georgia. Her body was found less than a week later, and Hilton has been sentenced to life in prison for her death. Later findings revealed he was connected to several other murders in the southeast.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: March 15, 2008

A tornado hit downtown Atlanta at approximately 9:40 PM, while basketball fans gathered in the Georgia Dome watching the Alabama / Mississippi State playoff game. Thousands were out and about downtown on this Friday night.

Waves of severe thunderstorms streaked through hours after the tornado left a trail of destruction through the heart of the city. Yet in the midst of the city, thousands felt God’s presence. As the morning dawned, we began to realize that while there were many injuries, there were no reported fatalities in downtown Atlanta.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Date: May 2nd, 2008

A cyclone tore through Myanmar (Burma) with unexpected fury, causing a tidal surge that swept inland and devastated Myanmar's most populated regions, leaving homes and businesses flattened and families forever changed.

Knocked over by a six-metre wave, a young Burmese woman climbed a tree backwards to protect her eight-month fetus. She held onto a branch for 12 hours, praying to God, until the sunrise shed light on her dead husband, 1-year old child, and dozens of relatives.[1]

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: May 13, 2008

A powerful earthquake toppled buildings, schools and chemical plants today in central China, killing about 10,000 people and trapping untold numbers in mounds of concrete, steel and earth in the country's worst quake in three decades.

Five days after the earthquake, a group of rescue workers found the body of a young woman inside rubble. She was in the kneeling position. Her back hunched over supporting the crumbled ceiling, her arms stretched forward, her hands thrust firmly into the muddy earth. There was no life in her. [2]

“Be still, and know that I am God. “

Cancerous tumors, failed marriages, falling trees, and human pain. Raining bullets, lost lives, nations in uproar, and human loss. Tidal surges, flattened structures, toppled buildings, and human loss. Nations in uproar, kingdoms that totter, a melting earth, and abounding wars.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

It’s often far too easy to remove ourselves from the natural disasters, the human atrocities, and the individual pain that many have endured and are enduring. And so…while we understand the need for the lesson found in these particular verses, we might even experience a twinge of guilt because maybe we have been UNaffected by such tragedies.

Or maybe we understand all too well the need for the lesson found in these verses, and we don’t want to hear it because its message hits too close to home. There may be, right now, foundation-shaking things that are happening within the lives of some of us. Perhaps you feel as if you are being overpowered by roaring, foaming waters. Maybe someone you love feels like the rug has just been pulled out from under her.

If your life is smooth sailing right now, or if your life waters are tossing you to and fro, there is a word for us to be found in today’s psalm.

The response of many, when bad things happen, is to question God. Why is God doing this to me, to her, to us? And that’s a question with which I continue to struggle. But I have found comfort in the words of the late Shirley Guthrie, theologian and professor at Columbia Seminary. He tells us in his book Christian Doctrine that God does not cause bad things to happen. Rather, when bad things do happen, “we look for and expect God’s presence (to) work indirectly in and through—and sometimes despite—the natural processes that affect our lives.”

There are times when it does seem that our world is falling apart all around us. Maybe we’re not touched directly by the chaos, but each of us is, in some way, affected. Much may fall apart around us, but we are not finally in jeopardy. The Lord God is sovereign. God is faithful. God is with us. God will not fail us.

God is, indeed, our refuge and strength, our help in times of trouble. This does not mean that bad things will NOT happen to us—they likely will if we live long enough. But it does mean that God will be with us during those difficult times, working in and through those moments of crisis and pain, to somehow bring good out of chaos. As the scholar writes, this text is “a profound assurance when life becomes unglued!”[3]

Let’s go back to China. Remember the body of the young woman found kneeling and hunched over? I’d like to share with you the rest of the story.

“As the rescue workers walked away (from her body), suddenly, the team leader seemed to understand something. He hurried back to the woman’s side and reached underneath her body. There, in the tiny shelter that the young woman created by using her body as protective shield, was a baby, about 3 months old, alive, unhurt and sleeping soundly still. Inside baby’s clothing, he found also a cell phone. On it was a message. “My dear baby: if you’re alive, remember, I love you.” People soon gathered about them and there was not a dry eye in the crowd.[4]

The closest thing to understanding God’s love of and care for us is the love of parent for child. It has been said that “the unconditional love of a parent is the greatest thing a child ever receives.” Sadly, many children never experience such love from their parents. Even for those that are fortunate enough to experience it, the unconditional love of God is greater still.

“In a time, when the world (seems to) crumble(s) all around (us), when the earth (seems to) swallow everything in sight, when all the hope seems to fade, God holds up the falling sky and says to us. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I am here. Everything will be all right.’” [5]

To God be all the glory, and honor, and power. Now & forevermore. Amen.

[1] (Toronto, Canada)
[3] Brueggemann, Walter in Text for Preaching, Year A, p. 348-9.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Momentary Distraction

So we're having a neighborhood yard sale this Saturday, which has gotten me in a major cleaning-out mode. I've had a huge pile of castaway items stacking up in our basement for almost a year now, and am making one final swoop through the house before the Big Day. In the process, I happened upon some articles, etc. that I had photocopied or torn out and set aside as "important" to me at some point in the past 8 or 10 years.

Here's one that I distinctly remember copying because it seemed so very accurate to my life at the time. As I ran across it again, at least seven years later, as much as I resist being pigeon-hold into gender stereotypes or worse yet, excusing my behavior because of hormones (okay, well maybe I don't really resist that...!), it still resonates with me. I didn't write down any information about the book from which I copied it, but I am assuming it was from some type of daily devotional for women. The title of the book is "Joy for the Journey," but when I google that title, I can't find any information about the actual book. (I am, however, directed to a website of a young evangelist who looks to be about sixteen...!) So I find myself wondering if it does with any other women out there who very clearly ride that monthly "hormonal roller coaster" as I do. I'd love to hear feedback!

"Understanding Your Emotions" by Kathy Babbitt, Habits of the Heart, as found in "Joy for the Journey," p. 19.

"The difference in estrogen levels in a woman's body during various times of the month correlates to a predictable pattern of behaviors and emotions. In general, during the first week of her cycle she is outgoing, ambitious, optimistic, and self-confident. (FYI, this is where I am now...) During the second week she is hopeful, easygoing, creative,...and has inner strength and a sense of well-being.... The third week she lacks coordination, longs for peace, impatient,...and gloomy. The fourth week she is very irritable, touchy, withdrawn,...and lacks self-confidence.

(still quoting) "Whew! Is it any wonder that interpersonal conflicts sometimes seem to come from nowhere? Naturally, these characteristics are not true for all women, and some women struggle with them more than others. Maybe you need to tell yourself, 'Tomorrow or next week will be better' or 'It will soon pass, just hang in there!'" (end quote)

I sometimes walk a fine line between wanting to scream to those around me--especially those who seem to have "issues" with me--"This is me, love me or leave me!" and looking in the mirror and thinking "I don't like you so much today, and it's no wonder others don't either! Let's see what we can do about that, shall we?" And sometimes, I really feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But when I really pay attention to my life, my moods, and my hormonal cycle, this truly seems to make sense to me. Speaking for my husband (albeit without his consent), I think he really loves being married to me during weeks one and two, and could live without me during that third week, and would just as soon leave me during that fourth week. (Feel free to weigh in on this, honey...!)

So anyone, for those of you reading this, what do you think? Am I just crazy, or trying to figure out something for which there is no predictable pattern? Is unpredictability really a GOOD thing, one to be embraced? Or is there something to learning who we are as women, and how we operate physically, chemically, and emotionally that will help us live a richer, fuller, more God-centered life?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Parental Failure??

I'm not quite sure where our middle child is getting his political influence, but it seems he is supporting McCain. His homeroom teacher is former military, so that could be it. I know it's not coming from his dad because he has yet to declare an allegiance to anyone, plus he doesn't talk politics with them very much. At any rate, I wasn't too disturbed by it at first, although I did give my dear son a few of my own reasons for supporting Obama over McCain, namely immigration, gay rights, and women's issues. However, when I was going thru his weekly papers this morning, I discovered this. Perhaps I will need some help in the future putting him on a different track.

The assignment was to "draw an editorial cartoon featuring a candidate on a view or an issue," and to "write an editorial to go with your cartoon." Here is what he wrote:

"Vote McCain '08 for a kind of Bush again. Are you bummed that Bush can't run? Well don't be! McCain's following in his footsteps. This presidential election has McCain all over it. With your help, he'll get there. So vote McCain for a kind of Bush again."

Big, heavy sigh. Have I failed as a parent??!! Am I raising a Republican? Worse yet, am I raising a Bush supporter? Dear God, please no!!

Seriously, the problem is that with Daniel, once he commits to something, he has a really hard time changing his mind because it's so important to him to be RIGHT. (No snide comments here about apples falling from treese or anything, people...!) Perhaps when Obama wins in November, Daniel will see the proverbial light and straighten himself up. :-) In the meantime, your prayers are appreciated!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How to Beat the Winter Doldrums

Two adjoining rooms in a NC hotel for two nights - $230
Gas to and from above NC hotel - $100
Two days of skiing / snowboarding, one day in the rain, one day in the springlike weather - $340
Food for two days for five people - $150
Piles of cold, wet clothes and a 4-hour drive home after a full day on the slopes – N/C
Two days away from it ALL, for amazing fun together as a family – Priceless

Those of you who know us know that our family often leads a crazy, mixed-up life. It’s true. Joel is essentially “on call” 24/7, and rare is the 24 hour period when he doesn’t think or do church at all. Granted, my job as a campus minister is not anywhere close to being as demanding as his job as a solo pastor is, but my hours are odd and often prevent us from doing things together as a family that we relied on heavily prior to my graduation—namely worshipping together and eating lunch together afterwards. And in between Tuesday night Bible studies and Sunday morning chaos, I try to find time to sit at my wheel, read to Michael’s 3rd grade class, let the boys have occasional sleepovers, and help Adam with his algebra homework. So our days are full—very full. And our lives are busy—very busy. But one of the very smartest things we, as parents and partners, have done for the last four years is to take the family on a “winter doldrums” getaway trip. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve held onto it like a terrier, refusing to let it go. We save for a few months, chinking away here and there, and put any money we receive at Christmas in our vacation budget. Then we pick a long weekend in late January or early February, avoiding typical holiday weekends, and just let the boys skip school so we can enjoy our time together with little or no crowds. This was a real stretch our first year, back in 2005. We were both in seminary, and our savings had dwindled to very little. But something told me that it would be an important thing to do. And I wanted to let the boys experience snow skiing while they were all still young enough to remain undaunted by the challenge of it. So I looked into our nearby options and settled on Cataloochee ski resort, just outside of Maggie Valley, NC. It was less than four hours from Atlanta, and appeared to have relatively inexpensive weekday rates, with a “kids ski free” option if you stayed at certain hotels. So we booked it.
That January night in 2005, we arrived to temperatures well below freezing, and snow was falling the next day as we skiied. It was a huge success, and was great for our family. Our first ski experience was so successful that we made a return trip to Cataloochee the next year, in 2006. The weather was not quite as cooperative that year, but we still had a great time. The year 2007 had long been set aside as a year for our third trip to Disney World, so we took a break from skiing and headed south for a few days in late January. (NB: We made it a “budget trip” by agreeing to listen to a spiel on Marriott timeshares, which was not as annoying as it might sound.) Again, it was just the thing we needed after Joel’s first full year in solo parish ministry, and I was nearing the home stretch of my time in seminary, eyeing graduation in May.
This year, however, we were all eager to return to the slopes. I had hoped it would be feasible to step it up a bit and ski Snowshoe, WV, but alas, our finances dictated that we should simply return to Cataloochee, and the boys were totally fine with that. So off we went this past Sunday, immediately after Rehoboth’s annual congregational meeting where Joel’s terms of call were reviewed and approved.
We arrived at our hotel Sunday night just in time for the Super Bowl kickoff, so Joel got to watch it in peace & quiet while I took the boys to the indoor pool and hot tub. At the half, we headed up for pj’s , pizza, and tucking in so we would be ready for our first day on the slopes. The weather called for rain, but after a lazy morning, we decided we’d head up the mountain anyway. After all, we’d made the trip so that we could ski, and we decided a bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us. (I must admit, though, that I was a bit sick to my stomach when it began to rain almost immediately after we charged $170 to the credit card, with the big “NO REFUND” sign staring at me.) Joel & Adam were determined to snow board, so they headed off on their own, while Daniel, Michael, & I hit the easy slope to remind our bodies how to ski.
After a few runs together, the boys were doing well enough for me to retreat inside for a cup of coffee. They didn’t seem to mind skiing in the rain. However, had it not been for their sheer happiness, I would have been miserable. (Interesting sidenote: I quickly learned that the Mardi Gras tradition for many N’Awlins Cajuns is to head north for skiing. While the resort was far from crowded, there were definitely more people there this time than either of our other two previous times, and I would say well over half of the folks on the slopes were from the New Orleans area. I loved their Cajun drawl and their genuine friendliness.) I wandered in & out for a couple of hours, depending on how fat the rain drops were, either skiing or taking videos / pictures. Michael gave out around 3PM, so I took him back to the hotel for a warm bath, then went back to pick the others up at 4:30.
After another lazy night of swimming and hot tubbing, we were at it again today. The weather was beautiful--hardly ski weather, though. By the end of the day I had shed everything but my ski pants and my David Lamotte “Change” t-shirt. The good thing about only ever experiencing North Carolina skiing is that the standards for “good skiing” conditions are not terribly high. I, for one, was just glad to be dry! It was a great day, and we stayed on the slopes as long as we could before piling in the car and heading home. Our dinner at Huddle House in Dillsboro, NC was a perfect finish to a great family mini-vacation.
We’re headed south on 441 as I type, listening to music together and just reveling in being together for these last few hours. The madness, the chaos, the busy-ness will start back up tomorrow as Joel & I both prepare for our own Ash Wednesday services, the boys head back to school, and we resume “normal” life once again. And soccer x 3 starts up full force this coming Monday. Ay-yi-yi! But this time…these precious few days with each other, with our only task being to have fun—this time will last us a good, long while. Hopefully until this time next year, when we head to Costa Rica for our biggest family vacation EVER, and one for which we’ve already been planning and saving for more than a year. Joel will turn 40 while we’re there, and I wanted it to be a special celebration for him as well as for us. We’ve been graciously given gratis accommodations at Hacienda Pinilla, and look forward to horseback riding, experiencing the Pacific coast, meeting Costa Rican families, hopefully touring a school or two, and just enjoying the beauty of another country. Until then, we will continue to steal pockets of treasured together time when we can get them. And when we don’t think we can make it another day, we will let our minds take us ahead, on to Costa Rica, and dream of what it will be like to spend not just a few days, but a whole week together, laughing & playing & relaxing, with our only task being to have fun.
The “winter doldrums getaway.” I highly recommend it for every family—but especially for families who are in ministry together. Make it a priority. You will find a million reasons why you can’t do it. “There’s not enough money.” “There’s too much to do!” “The timing just isn’t right!” “The kids have school.” “It’s too hard to plan.” But don’t let the excuses win. Find a way to do it. Make a way to do it. It doesn’t have to be an expensive getaway and trust me…those things to do will still be there when you get back. Also, YOU are the parents, not the school. Those of us in ministry don’t get the luxury of “family weekends” that many folks get. And planning? It doesn’t take much, and it can be part of the fun. Don’t let the excuses win. I know it does amazing things for our family’s health and wellbeing, and I imagine it would be wonderful for yours as well. And by the way, if / when you do it, I’d love for you to write me and tell me all about it.
PS - Pictures and videos will soon follow, I hope!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Own Brief Statement of Faith

Seminary has been an amazing journey for me, and while I am still, in many ways, the same person I was six years ago, I have also learned much about my faith and the God we worship & serve. While I do believe that the path of Christianity down which I am wandering is the right path for me, I am not arrogant enough to believe that God's plan can be limited by the ways of this world. God loves each and every one of us, and has a desire to be with each of us for eternity--whatever that may look like. I do believe that God can and will accomplish this as only God can. I continue to believe that God's church is for all, and that ordination should be open to all persons whom God calls and who have the support of their local governing body--church or presbytery. I believe that faith is, first and foremost, a gift, and that all of our lives should be lived in gratitude for all that God has done for us. I believe in a loving, merciful God who is pained by the injustices in the world, rejoices with each of us as we rejoice, and weeps with each of us as we weep. It is in service to this God that I am to be ordained, it is this God to whom I give thanks for the many blessings in my life, and it is this God whom I strive to love and worship every day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Do you ever just have one of those days? Not one of those days where you wish you'd never gotten up, but one of those days that you're so very GLAD to be up and alive? That's what yesterday was for me. It was pure bliss! What made it so great, you ask? Well, let me tell you...

First, I woke up and lay in bed reading some more of my new favorite book, Eat, Pray, Love. I drank coffee and read the paper as I listened to the rain turn to sleet. I piled the boys in the car to pick Adam up from a sleepover. Traffic was very light, and the snow started to fall on our way over. I visited with the sleepover mom and enjoyed chatting with someone new.

We ate lunch with my parents, then came home and I spent two hours at my wheel, crafting six new mugs, a vase, and a bowl as the Indigo Girls serenaded me from their 1200 Curfews CD. Joel made it home just in time for dinner--Chinese delivery--at my folks' house. They'd never had anything delivered to their house except pizza, and were quite taken with the notion. I love sharing the little joys of sub/urban living with them. :-) We packed up some leftovers and headed home, enjoying the cold crisp air and the snowmen and women we met along the way. I tucked the boys in, then tucked myself in with more reading. I fell asleep with a book in my hands, and a heart full of gratitude.

Yesterday will carry me for quite a long time, I think.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sermon: Hope Has a Voice

A sermon preached today, January 13th 2007, at the church of my childhood, Henry Memorial Presbyterian, in Dublin, GA. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated!

Isaiah 42:1-9
1Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

Matthew 3:13-4:1
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

It’s good to be back here, as always. Since my graduation from seminary, I have enjoyed a luxurious summer being “just a mom,” and in August, began my job as the Presbyterian campus minister at Emory University. We have a small, but faithful group of students who gather for worship each Sunday at Emory Presbyterian Church, and for Bible study and fellowship every Tuesday night.

Our ministry strives to be one that is inclusive, faithful, challenging, and comforting. Together, we seek to discover what God is saying to us and might be doing through us in the here & now. I love it.

My call to campus ministry took me to heaven’s gate last weekend…to Montreat, NC where more than 800 college students gathered together for the annual collegiate conference. I must admit—being there as a campus minister was wonderful. I had the best of both worlds—the energy and passion of youth, without the responsibilities of knowing their whereabouts at every given moment.

We stayed at the mountain home of a dear friend, and enjoyed our time together –preparing and sharing meals and playing games, as well as our time in small groups and larger sessions. The conference theme was Hope Has a Voice, and building on today’s text as well as my experience in Montreat, I have also chosen that as the title of my sermon today.

The lectionary has us at the baptism of Jesus. It’s a puzzling text for many, just as it was a puzzling event for John. Imagine it. John is preaching, doing his thing, by the Jordan River.
We’ve just heard, at the beginning of chapter 3, about John’s unusual wardrobe and diet…camel’s hair and locusts. I can just picture him, can’t you? Lumbering around, his mumblings increasing in volume as he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

Preaching a gospel of social consciousness, he urges those listening to bear fruit worthy of repentance, cautioning that those trees which do not bear good fruit will be cut down and burned. “I baptize you with water…but the one coming after me is greater. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire!”

And then…and then…the greater one comes. The greater one comes and asks that John baptize him. John objects. “I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you!” [1]
And we get that. We get John’s objection. Because here is this man Jesus, the SON OF GOD, for pete’s sake. We would daresay that this man, this Savior, would not even NEED baptism, much less by someone like John.

Jesus insists. “Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.” So John did it. And the heavens opened up, and the dove-like spirit came down, and God spoke. “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.”

Then Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted.

Going into the wilderness to be tempted. That phrase has new meaning for me as I minister with and among college students, away from home and the hawk-like parental supervision that most of their parents have doled out.

For you see, as someone who was IN college at one time—for all of the good things that college is—the chance to spread ones wings, the chance to make ones own decisions about many things, the chance to live with and among friends 24/7—for all the good things that it is, it is very much like going into the wilderness to be tempted.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…and ahead of the text.

Baptism. In our tradition, we typically administer the sacrament of baptism in infancy—signifying that we believe God’s call on our lives happens long before we can say yes to God. The “decision” for God, if you can call it that, is typically made by one’s parents. But its not really a “decision” for God as much as it is an awareness of God’s grace and an acknowledgement of what God has already done for us.

And so we baptize infants.

We baptize infants before they are old enough to understand, vowing to nurture them along the way as a community of believers.

We baptize infants and bring them to church as often as we can. We teach them in VBS, we chair committees that oversee their activities, and we marvel as they grow right before our very eyes in the weeks between each children’s moment.

We baptize infants and then send them off to church camp or Montreat when they are in middle and high school, and they have mountaintop experiences.

We baptize infants and then ask them to assume positions of church leadership…youth elder, or serving as a representative on the nominating committee.

We baptize infants, and then send them off to college…to the wilderness to be tempted…where our campus ministries, if they are even present, are suffering—underfunded and all but ignored.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, when we take part in a baptism, we are vowing to nurture that child in his or her faith life for years to come. I daresay that when ANY church baptizes an infant, that church is taking a vow on behalf of the whole body of Christ to nurture that child into a life of faith.

And yet…and yet…when they graduate high school and leave the safety and comfort of their back-home family of faith, we provide little or nothing for them.

There’s just something wrong with that.

Now I know that now is not the time for a soapbox rant, but I can’t pass up the chance to put in a plug for our forgotten college students. Because last weekend, as I sat in the middle of Anderson Auditorium in Montreat, surround by 18 to 22 year olds, feeling simultaneously very old and very young, I was amazed at what I was a part of.

We were all captivated by a student group from Virginia Tech as they shared with us some of their memories and experiences from last April when a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage on their campus.

We heard from Heidi, a young woman who had been shot three times in the leg. She shared with us her journey of pain and recovery. Every day, she wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “hope.” She became the embodiment of hope for many of us.

We heard from Shane Claiborne, a young adult who has ventured into a way of life that is beyond alternative in today’s culture. Ten years ago, at the age of 21, he and several of his friends founded an alternative community in inner city Philadelphia known as The Simple Way.
Here, he lives communally with others, working side by side to embody the gospel for those whom many people would just as soon forget. The students at the conference loved him.

We heard from Ishmael Beah, author of the NY Times bestseller A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. In his book, Beah, now twenty-seven years old, tells his story. “At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered his homeland, rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army. Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. His story is an amazing one of redemption and hope.” [2]

The students listened in awe and amazement as he closed his address to them with these words. “We are all capable of becoming monsters if the circumstances are there. Likewise, we are all capable of doing good. When the good in a person is nurtured, we can do amazing things.”

Part of what we promise to do each and every time we baptize an infant—or an adult, for that matter-- is to nurture that person. To love, support, and nurture that which is good in that person. It is our job as the body of Christ to do that for one another.

Jesus was baptized, then went into the wilderness to be tempted. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never worried too much about Jesus giving in to temptation. I mean, sure, hindsight is 20/20, but even if I didn’t know how the temptation story ended, I wouldn’t worry too much. After all, he is the God with Us, our Creator God incarnate. Stronger than any temptor’s snare.

We’ve been baptized, just like Jesus was. And just like Jesus, we are tempted in the wilderness. We leave the quiet, calm of our places of our baptisms each Sunday and enter the wilderness that is our violent, hopeless, power-hungry, mixed-up world to be tempted.

We are tempted to lust for power.
We are tempted to desire what others have.
We are tempted by hopelessness and apathy.
We are tempted to respond to injustice in violent ways.
We are tempted to live by society’s values rather than God’s values.
We are tempted to shun those who are different from us.
We are tempted to believe that the problems “out there” are not “our” problems.

But we forget. We forget that we have been baptized into a community of believers. We have been marked as God’s own. We forget that at our baptism, God looked on and said, “This is my child, chosen and marked by my love, the delight of my life.”

Isaiah reminds us what God said and continues to say to God’s chosen & beloved:
6I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

We are baptized and we are tempted, yes. But we have been called in righteousness. God has taken our hand, and has promised to keep us.

What I saw in the eyes and hearts of those 800 college students was the desire to live as if that made a DIFFERENCE in their lives. I saw a renewed passion to live a life of hope, to be a voice of hope. The conversations I heard as I wandered around towards the end of our weekend were things like, “I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but now I’m having to rethink it all.” “I still want to be a (fill in the blank), but I want to find a way for what I do to make a difference in the world.”

Those students left that mountaintop gathering eager to be a light to all the nations. They left desiring to open the eyes of the blind. They left committed to bring the prisoners out from the dungeon. They left with the firm and certain knowledge that hope DOES have a voice, and that the voice of hope is them. The voice of hope is us.

We have been baptized.

We have been and will be tempted.

We have been called in righteousness.

God has taken us by the hand, and has promised to keep us.

We are the voice of hope in this broken and fearful world in which we live.

We are God’s people, Christ’s body, here on earth.

We are God’s children, chosen and marked by God. We—you & I—are the ones in whom God delights.

We are.

The question is…What difference does it make?

Does it make any difference at all?

I pray that it does.


[1] The Message