A Sermon on Psalm 121: From Night Wrestling to Mountain Blessing

Just a week and a half ago a hurricane hit our state for the first time in over a hundred years.

Like many of you, I grew up visiting our beautiful coast regularly. As a youth I often went to summer camp at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simon’s. It is a sacred place to me as I grew up in God’s grace under those old live oaks. But it is also special place to me as those oaks saw me not only grow in grace, but also just plain grow up from a child to a woman. I went from a scrawny girl away from home for the first time sleeping in a tabby cabin, to a teenager getting her first kiss on the Epworth pier during a youth weekend, to a young women attending her first ministerial retreat for Methodist clergy, all under the oaks of Epworth. That is a lot of life for trees and piers and tabby cabins to hold, but hold it all they did.

As a child my family vacationed in Savannah for a week every year. And then as young woman I returned to Savannah to serve my first church. Jason and I lived in our state’s first city for four years and through ministry and life I fell totally in love with that beautiful town and its people. On my Fridays off I would often meet Jason downtown for lunch and then spending the afternoon in Forsyth Park to read by the fountain and soak up the beautiful life that park holds. But occasionally on Fridays I would drive out to Tybee to take communion to one of our shut-ins in a nursing home there. After reading Scripture and praying and taking the bread and wine with my parishioner, Barbara, I would walk the beach and let the sand and waves carry the cares of my week away.

So the night that Matthew hit my beloved Tybee and St Simon’s, I was as sleepless and restless as Jacob long ago.

Would everything be okay? Would my friends and family on the coast be hurt? Would they lose their homes? Would the landmarks and touchstones I knew and loved so well survive? Would I recognize the world I woke up to tomorrow?

The fate of the Georgia coast was not the only thing that kept me up that fateful night. As the hurricane hit our coast, more chaos and scandal hit our nation in the storm that has been this year’s presidential election. As I drifted in and out of sleep the winds of the hurricane and the winds that have been whipping our nation merged into one big storm in my mind. A storm whose potential damage kept me wrestling with fear. I wish I could say as morning broke I was a changed woman. That I received a blessing. But our life is not always as quickly resolved as the Biblical narratives. I continued to worry and struggle for days even as we left for not the coast, but the Georgia mountains for our fall vacation.

On the way to our cabin I read over the Scriptures trying to find something that would speak to us all. Some word from God that would shine light on these confusing and changing times. So as I looked for comfort in Scripture as we crossed out of the Piedmont into North Georgia I came upon today’s Psalm. “I will lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” And for the first time in days I took a good, deep breath.

I don’t know about you, but the mountains have always brought me peace. Something about their largeness and ancientness reminds me of God. Their constant presence reminds me there is a God much bigger and stronger and older than me that can do mighty things. And this God that made the mountains is with me still. Through my every day. Through our every storm. If God can make mud into mountains, surely God can handle the chaos in my life now.

The mountains were a sacred place for the Israelites as well. When people wanted to draw close to God they went up one of the Holy Mountains and miraculous things took place. Bushes burned. Laws were given. God was present in real ways. So I had always read this Psalm as one that offers us the mountains as a comfort. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills and then remember my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

But after reading commentaries this week, I found Psalm 121 can be read another way. Psalm 121 is one of the Songs of Ascents, a group of Psalms that were prayed when pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem.

Now any journey is dangerous, but especially so in ancient times. One never knew what was lurking around the bend. So in this context I wonder is the mountain a comfort, or an obstacle on our journey?

This makes sense to me too. As much as I love mountains, there have been moments on what were supposed to be peaceful hikes that the terrain got tough and I was praying hard to God to “let not my foot be moved” for if my feet slipped on that windy perilous path I might very well plummet many feet to my death.

So is the mountain then a call to prayer for God to help us through the hard places in our journey? For setting out on any new journey brings fear and worry. For we know at some point the times will get tough. Unseen danger may arise. And we wonder on the pilgrimage if we will ever come back and find home like we once knew it again. For you see pilgrimages are times of change. Change for people and places and nations. And if you are like me you don’t want the things you have known and loved to change.

You lay awake at night wondering if you will ever see the live oaks at Epworth again or if the fountain at Forsyth park will stand. You just want something Unchanging you can hold onto while everything uncertain swirls around you.

As we were driving along Ga 400 and I was reading Psalm 121 another memory came to mind. I told you that during my time in Savannah one Friday a month I would go and visit my parishioner, Barb. Barb was not much older than I am now but she was quite sick. In fact Barb was so sick that we all knew she had already started the journey that will lead her from this world unto the next. As I visited with Barb every month in that nursing home by the sea, she would always ask me to read Psalm 121. I would read it from the King James and she would say it by heart along with me. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills, from whence commeth my help? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” And every month as we said these words together she would squeeze my hands with tears in her eyes and small smile on her face. I would often look at her and marvel that though so much had changed for her and so much uncertainty lay ahead, this Psalm brought her such peace. It was if she could see into the distance, see that last mountain to cross and look at it without fear because she knew. She knew she was not alone. The Maker of Heaven and Earth was with her. And no matter how bad and scary things got God would be helping her feet make every step of the way.

And when you know in your core that the God who made the mountains is keeping you and everything in this world in God’s hand, even the mountain slopes and the storms aren’t so scary anymore.

Because no matter what changes the journey will bring, the unchanging God will be with us.

Loving us, helping us, keeping us. And that is more than enough peace and strength to keep us walking on our way. Amen.

What It Means To Take A Knee

I will admit that when I first heard about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem before one of the 49ers footballs games, I didn’t quite get it. Part of the reason for this is the way the media and everyone else was phrasing it. Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem. Can you believe it? Does this guy hate America or what?

As I heard more about his actions, I began to understand that Kaepernick was doing it as a protest against racism in America. An understandable action for sure. But during the national anthem? That is a pretty sensitive moment for most Americans. A moment for national pride and respect.

And then I went to a USA Women’s soccer game in Atlanta. On the ride up my daughter, her friend, and I were all taking about our favorite players and how we couldn’t wait to see them in action. My daughter’s friend told me how her favorite player was Megan Rapinoe. She went on to say how she was worried about not getting to see Rapinoe play as Rapinoe had been taking a knee during the national anthem and her coaches weren’t pleased. Just to clarify I asked her, “Why is Rapinoe taking a knee?” Our friend replied, “Oh you know because of all the racism in this country. All the bad stuff happening to black people. She wanted to support Kaepernick in his protest of all that is going on.”

We went on to talk about a girl in her class who is taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance every school day because there isn’t actually “liberty and justice for all” right now. Apparently her teacher is not impressed.

We went on to talk about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights and specifically our First Amendment right to peaceful protest. We talked about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and other such things.

And then we got to the game and I forgot all about our conversation. We were so excited to be in the Georgia Dome and see our women play! And then the national anthem was playing. And there before my eyes was Megan Rapinoe silently, humbly, bowing down on one knee while the national anthem was sung.

And I don’t know it if was because she was a white woman or because she was on a soccer field or what, but suddenly I got it.

You see my kids play soccer. My son started when he was quite young. At that age kids often got hurt and fell down. Maybe they tripped or got tripped or were hit by the ball. This happened so much in the game with little kids dropping like flies that the league had a certain practice. When one kid saw that another player was down they immediately took a knee. One benefit of this practice was to alert the ref that there was a hurt player on the field (after all there are ten little kids running constantly, it is hard for one ref to keep track of them all.) Also, it helped to keep any other the other kids from accidentally running over the hurt kid and making things worse (they were little kids, these things happen).

So when I saw Megan Rapinoe taking a knee that night it all  clicked.

She was taking a knee to alert those in charge that there were people in her country, on HER TEAM so to say, that were injured and hurting.

She was letting everyone know that it was time to stop the game, check on the hurt person, and see what was needed to be done to heal their injury. Because we need them to be strong and well. Because they are a part of OUR TEAM and we need all our team healthy and strong to play the best game.

It turns out Rapinoe did play that night. She came in during the second half. And the boos raised the roof of the dome. And the girls got sooo upset. I told them to calm down as Megan had thought through what she was doing and surely knew there would be consequences. She just believed in what she was doing enough to face those consequences. Those are the ropes of social protest. And so they cheered for her throughout the game as loud as they could to counteract all the repeated boos.

Flash forward two weeks later and we are at a high school football game in another town as a part of my husband’s high school reunion. As the national anthem played two things happened. My son put my hand over my heart (To be honest I never quite know what to do during the anthem. I grew up standing at attention to the flag and singing along. I guess things have changed). One second later my daughter turns to me and says, “Should I take a knee?” I looked at her with big eyes and said, “Do what you think is right baby.” I watched as she slowly lowered half way down, panicked, and then stood back up again.

We all talked about the anthem moment in the car later. It turns out my husband was thinking the same thing as my daughter but backed out too. My daughter’s reason was this: She was already in a place where no one knew her or her heart. She already thought she stood out in a sea of pretty conservative white people (she is Chinese adopted and a socially liberal 13 year old). “I think they would have just ended up hating me and not understood what I was trying to do,” she said.” She obviously remembered the boos from the GA Dome. I talked about how I was again surprised it was time for the anthem to play (I really don’t get out enough) and hadn’t had time to think things through.

And such is the dilemma of social protest. Will people understand what you are doing? Will you change the way people see things or will they just hate you?

I guess that is why most social protests are planned well in advance with a lot of thought and with preparation to face the consequences.

So, Now that I have had a few hours to mull things over, I have made up my mind and am prepared to face the consequences.

 

Here is me belatedly taking a knee.

 

And it is not because I hate America, or because I don’t respect out veterans or troops.

I love my country. My Dad is a Vietnam vet. Half my friends are either vets or active duty military wives (we live in an Air Force town) and I respect and support them to no end.

I am not taking a knee because I hate America. I love my country. If I hated it I would just leave.

But I love my country and all of its people so much that I know we can do better. We HAVE to do better.

I believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and our National Anthem so much I want them to ring true for all our fine citizens.

And the hard truth is right now they don’t. Some of my fellow Americans are hurting right now.

And it is not just the police shootings. (By the way I don’t hate police either. My most beloved friend is in law enforcement so I get it is a hard, hard job. Cops have my respect, love, and support too.) The shootings of late are the tip of an iceberg of institutional racism in our country. Racism that manifests itself in many different forms but boils down to the fact that many white people see and treat black people as “other”rather than “neighbor” or “team mate” or “friend.”

I truly believe we can stop the game for a minute to look at the hurts of our black brothers and sisters and then try to all heal the hurts together. I truly believe things can be better if we ALL roll up our sleeves, join together, and do the hard work of trying.

We have done it before. We ended slavery. We stopped many ingrained racist practices in the 60s like segregation and Jim Crow laws. We just need to try again and change the hurts that are happening today.

I believe in our country and I believe in its people and I know we can do better . We MUST do better to be who we say we are.

So here I am down on one knee with my hand over my heart, singing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, hoping, striving for it to be true for all Americans.

Will you join me?

 

Adventures in Anxiety and Depression: Switching Meds

After I filled you in on my med change decision in  The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression I felt I needed to give an update. I am almost a week into my journey of changing anxiety and depression medicine after getting my results back from Genesight. Overall, the week has gone smoother than I may have thought, but there have definitely been bumps.

Some of those bumps of course are self created. During my appointment with my psychiatrist we decided I would move from taking 20mg of my current medicine (a full dose) to taking 10mg for four days and then taking 5mg for four days. We hope by then we would be ready to start the new med.

I gotta tell you that first night I went ahead and took the full 20mg again. My husband seeing me take the 20mg pill just looked at me and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be weaning down?” I replied, “Yeah, but we have a lot going on tomorrow, I’d better go with 20mg tonight.”

If you can’t read between the lines, I’ll  just tell you I was scared of weaning down. Scared of how it would make me feel. Scared of how I would react.

The next night I didn’t feel much braver, but the hubs looked at me and said, “Take the 10mg. It’s labor day weekend. We’ll be around with you for days.”

Sidenote: I really love my husband. He should be made a saint or something. 

So I opened the 10mg sample bottle I was given for just this task and took the leap. Then I chased it with my nightly dose of Klonopin and went to bed. Best not to overthink these things.

The first couple of days were not that bad. From time to time I could feel myself “checking my emotional temperature,” but nothing catastrophic was happening. I was a little cranky and anxious but I think a lot of this came from my own nervousness about the endeavor.

For here is one of the horrible truths about anxiety. You are often your own worst enemy. Since I have had bad experiences going on a new med before (read previous Search for Normal post for Paxil nightmare story), my mind and to some extent my body remember this trauma. They tense up and brace for it to happen again. The fear that is created by the dread is enough to make me feel worse. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

So I tried to simultaneously keep my self busy and be gentle with myself. There was a lot of movie watching and reading and cuddling kids and dogs. Mostly I just pressed on with it all. Two days of 10mg down, two to go. Just keep swimming.

All this while I know there is another step coming. My doc told me to drop off the prescription at the pharmacy right away as she knew there would probably be some dance between her and my insurance company on getting them to cover it. She thought that since we had the genesight results and my reports of side effects from my current med that we should be okay.

Well, let me just tell you. It was not okay. After haggling back and forth my insurance company told her that they were refusing to pay for my med. Even though it was on their formulary. Even though Genesight called it one of my best. Even though she has seen patients do great on it, recommended it for me and asked for me to be given the drug.

They refused to pay.

Why? Because the drug is expensive and they want me to try every cheaper option first. Even if it is not the best drug for me. Even though there is a chance the cheap drug will either not work as well or give me difficult side effects.

After losing the fight with my insurance company my doc called me and left me a message that we were going with a new drug that she thought my insurance might cover and to stop by to get the script so I could drop it off right away. Because of the dance.

But instead I had a panic attack. Because it had taken several minutes of my Doc giving me a pep talk on how she felt good about this new drug and how it was going to be great for me and how it wouldn’t cause horrible side effects like I’ve endured before or even the less horrible side effects of weight gain or loss of labido. . . .

(Okay, let’s just pause a minute and let it soak in that I’ll tolerate gaining 50 pounds and having to be talked into being intimate with the love of my life because both the experience of acute anxiety/depression and the side effects I’ve endured from other meds, yes you Paxil, were so bad that being obese and unsexy seemed like workable and even preferable options.)

It took this five minute pep talk to convince me this new drug was going to be okay. That I was going to be okay. Because I could trust the science of the Genesight test. Because I can trust my Psychiatrist. There was a lot of trust that went into me agreeing to change to this new med.

And then. Then my insurance company goes and blows all that trust building and bravery out of the water by refusing to cover this new med. And to pay it out of pocket would cost $200 a month. Or $2,400 a year. We could do that. But why should we have to? When I have an illness and there is a drug that will treat that illness but my insurance company just doesn’t want to spend that much money on me even though I pay them a buttload of money in premiums each month for just this sort of thing.

So after getting the phone message from my Doc I am crying and having a panic attack in the bathroom where my children can’t see me, frantically looking up this new med. A med I have not had a five minute pep talk about. A med that was not the first one my Doc pointed to and said, “I really like this one. This one will work really well.” And as I’m reading reviews on the new med which I know nothing about they are very mixed. Some people had horrible reactions, for some people it just didn’t work, and some called it a life safer.

Because here is another horrible truth about anxiety and depression. Even though there are wonderful meds out there that can help treat the illness, finding the right one for you is really a crap shoot. The drug that saves one person’s life causes another to fall into a suicidal hole. The drug that calms one’s person’s raging fear can ramp another up into a nightmarish fit of anxiety and irritability.

I cannot even describe to you what some of the side effects of psychotrpic drugs feel like. I can only tell you that the experience of them was so bad I would not wish them on my worst enemy. The best I can approximate is that it is like a drug trip gone VERY wrong. And my experience was not even worst case scenario.

And the worst thing is you are not experiencing these roller coaster rides as a strong, healthy individual. You go in already weak and broken and then the drug messes you up even that much more. 

Until you either ride out the first few weeks of your body adjusting to the drug and finally hit stability and then healing or you find the right med that works for you with no bad stuff on the side.

And then it is like a miracle. Because you suddenly feel so much better. And you never had to feel so much worse to get there.

And that was the real hope of the Genesight test for me all along. That I would find the right drug that made me feel so much better without having to deal with so much worse. Not even 50 pound weight gain and decreased labido.

After a talk with my husband (saint I tell you) I work up the courage to drop off the second drug at my pharmacy this morning. Because Genesight said it was good and my Doc choose it second. And I have to believe she wouldn’t send me home with anything that was bad for me even if it isn’t best.

And as I’ve typed this post I’ve gotten not one but two automated two from my pharmacy telling me they cannot fill this med until they get prior approval from my doctor. As if her prescription were not approval enough.

And while I wait for my Doc and my insurance company to agree on SOME medicine I can take for my illness, not my inconvenience nor my personal problem, but MY ILLNESS, I press on. I keep taking the 5mg of my old drug for a few more nights even though I can feel a difference now. It is nothing horrible or unmanageable. I can just feel that this net that was keeping me lifted up above the abyss of sadness and angst is slowly loosening its hold. It takes less to irritate me or work me up now. I feel a little more fragile. I cannot do as much in a day without coming to the end of myself.

So I’ll keep reading fiction and watching movies and drinking herbal tea and breathing deep and singing along to the radio loud and doing the hundreds of things I’ve learned through years of therapy and trial and error that keep the abyss at bay. And I’ll hold tight to the family and friends that surround me in a delicate time and hold me up and push me on and keep me going.

But there are moments when I am just so angry. Angry I have this disease of anxiety and depression. Angry that science and medicine are still so clumsy in treating it. And I’m furious at my insurance company that when I need them most they do their job in providing for me the least. That they refuse to do their job so they can improve their bottom line. That they take sick people’s lives which are already hard and make them even harder.

I pray that one day mental illness will get the treatment it deserves. Both from good science and research and from insurance companies who do their damn job.

Until then friends, just keep swimming.

 

The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression

As I’ve written before, I have struggled all my life with anxiety and depression. That being said my symptoms wax and wane. Most of the time I am really functional. And then there have been the few times I have really crashed under the weight of it all.

I had one of those crashes two years ago.

(Thanks Facebook memories for celebrating the anniversary of this. How thoughtful).

The crash was bad enough and I was wise enough that I got some help crawling out of the anxiety and depression filled hole I was in. I got back in therapy. I went to a psychiatrist for the second time in my life. I got on some good anxiety meds and an SSRI (medicine used to mostly to treat depression but that also handily helps with anxiety. OCD be gone!)

Within weeks I was feeling better. Within months I was feeling really better. About six months in I realized I felt better than I had in YEARS.

It was like I had been so low level sick for so long I forgot what having a healthy mind felt like. It was a revolution.

I felt so great I asked my Doc when I could come off the drugs.

You see when I had my first crash in my 20s, I only took Klonopin and Paxil for about a year. I got a lot better and then I got off the meds. I couldn’t wait. The Paxil had several undesirable side effects including causing me to gain about 50 pounds.

The memory of the Paxil year was so strong I resisted medication for decades. Then when I had the bad crash two years ago, I had a long talk with my doctor who reassured me the drugs are better now and that she wouldn’t stick me on something I wasn’t happy with.

Let me tell you how scared and reticent I was two years ago to take that SSRI again after all those years . My Doc was really patient with me and ramped me up slow. To my surprise it was really smooth getting on the med  (unlike my experience with Paxil which aggravated my anxiety. My hands shook for weeks getting on that med. And don’t even get me started on the random dots of light I saw from time to time. Side effect city).

But the new drug was much better. And I was much better. I have gained 50 pounds over the two years I have been on it, my one bad side effect. My Doctor and I go back and forth on if its the medicine that is making me gain weight or my lack of anxiety and OCD that lets me enjoy eating again. Say what you want about OCD but it is a GREAT diet aid.

OCD me: Must not eat cookies. Cannot eat cookies. NO cookies.

Without OCD me: Cookies smell good. Cookies taste good. Eat cookies. Love all the cookies. Cookies best thing ever. Life is Wonderful!

But I digress. About a month ago I heard that there was this genetic test that could tell you which are the best psych meds for you. I figured, “What the heck, let’s try it.” It cost a few hundred bucks but the science of it all totally seduced me and it would give me information (including what pain meds work best for me) that would help me for the rest of my life.

So I swabbed me cheek and sent in the test thinking it would tell me I was on all the right meds. After all, I felt so much better.

So yesterday I had my follow up appointment with my Doc to review my test results and guess what we found. My SSRI fell in the “not as useful for my particular type of DNA” category. It also fell in the “has a lot of side effects for my DNA” category. Maybe it is not just the occasional cookie I now eat that made me gain 50 pounds.

Now I know this is good news in many ways. My Doc immediately pointed to a SNRI med in the “best” category that she loved and wants to switch me to. “You’ll do a lot better,” she said. “I thought I was better,” I replied. She looked me in the eyes, “You’ll be even better than you are now.”

I know this is good news. But a part of me  feels so sad. Not just because I have to come off one med and start another. which I dread (Thanks Paxil. No surprise you were in my “worst” category).

I feel sad because I am starting to realize that I have never known what “Good” feels like. I have never experienced life except through the lens of anxiety and depression. I couldn’t know what normal brain chemistry felt like if I tried.

Now part of me already knew this. I look at people who seem so strong and hearty and happy all the time. People who don’t get crippled by fear or depression. I wonder what it must feel like inside their selves.

And a part of me knows that even as a child I was scared a lot. That fear lurked around every corner. That I was withdrawn and slightly sad most of the time. There is a portrait that hangs in my parents house of me around ten years old. In it I look for all the world like my puppy just died. I have always hated that portrait. Because I know the artist captured something of my essence that day. And that essence’s eyes were so sad.

Not that I have never been happy or carefree. Not that I haven’t learned how to cope with anxiety and depression. Our deepest weakness bring our greatest gifts after all. I have a lot of gifts from my old pals anxiety and depression. I am caring and deep and thoughtful and know about a thousand ways to calm myself and others down.

But at the end of the day I have to admit my best happy and carefree moments were still bordered with anxiety and depression. Even though I am doing better now, when I am truly honest with myself there are days when I still really struggle. It is never as bad or as long as my worst of times, but it is there.

So it is with mixed emotions that I embark on the road to “even better.” Can my anxiety and depression ever really be cured? What will “even better” feel like? Will I even recognize myself?

But the thought of being able to do things I have never done lures me. I want to be able to walk across a swinging bridge with my family and laugh instead of having a panic attack. I want to board an airplane without thinking twice. I want to take a job without worrying how it will impact my anxiety and depression.

I don’t know if “Even Better” will let me do all those things. But I think I have to try.

So here’s to the ongoing uphill road to getting better. To finding my new normal. It is a little scary to think about climbing up this new hill. But hopefully it will be worth all  effort.

Do you have anxiety and or depression stories? Feel free to share. Our common knowledge makes us stronger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glitter from Heaven: A Sermon on Exodus 35 and Luke 9

I am preaching at a local church this morning on the Transfiguration. I liked how the sermon turned out, so I thought I would share in hopes it would bless you.

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When I looked over the Scripture choices from the lectionary for this week, I accidentally picked the ones for yesterday, which was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Even after I realized my mistake, I pressed on with the transfiguration scriptures, one because I like the transfiguration story and two because I LOVE this passage from Exodus.

I don’t know if you know the history of this Scripture or not, but today’s Exodus passage is actually the reason why Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses and certain paintings from that same era depict Moses as having horns growing out of his head.

Moses, with pointy horns on top! Now most people attribute this to what they call a mistranslation by St Jermone when he was converting the ancient Hebrew into Latin, back when people read the Bible in Latin. It turns out the words for “horn” and “gleaming or shining” are quite similar, with only a vowel or so difference. This week I found out there is a whole controversy on the internet on whether this was a mistranslation or not. Some people say the horns are actually horns of light and some refer to a “horn of truth” that was a thing back in Ancient times.

Personally, I think these people on the internet have too much time on their hands. But I love the horn controversy for two reasons. One, it shows us words matter. And two, I love the point of both of these translations.

Moses was changed by his time with God up on Mount Sinai. He came so close to the Almighty in this time, that either he shone with the very glory of God or he grew some sort of horn. (I gotta admit, I fall in the shining with light camp on this one, let’s just go with that!). This light filled transformation of Moses was so startling that it scared the Israelites. Moses took to wearing a cloth over his face so that they people wouldn’t be so spooked out by his God induced gleam.

Man I love this. Gleaming with God. Getting so close to the Holy One that some of the God light just rubs right off on you. Since I geeked out on the Hebrew words this week, I’ll tell you the Hebrew word for this God light is Shekinah. That just sounds right doesn’t it? Shekinah. It just sounds like sparks of divine light flying off God and lodging themselves into our souls.

Have you ever met someone who glowed with this Shekinah, this God light? Maybe not so much so that you were scared of them, but enough that you noticed something was different? I think this is what we talk about when we say a woman simply glowed on her wedding day or that we knew someone was pregnant because they were glowing. Now men can glow too. When they hold their child for the first time or when they are in love. When we are in the midst of a truly holy moment, it makes sense that God’s light would shine extra bright in us.

But have you ever met someone who seemed to gleam with God’s light all the time? Someone who spent so much time with God on such a regular basis they were radiant?

Well, we know there was one person on earth who was like this. Jesus. When Jesus takes Peter, James and John, men who were described as weighed down with sleep up on another mountain, he reveals his true self to them. I am thinking the guys were glad they made themselves stay awake once they got to the top of the mountain to see what came next, because what came next was that Jesus takes off the veil he had been wearing so to say and shows them his true essence in all its awe and wonder. The Greek words that describe Jesus’s clothes as dazzling white in our translation can also be translated as “flinging glitter.” I kind of like that better. Jesus was so radiant with God’s glory that is was if he was flinging glitter from himself. The thing about glitter is that it sticks to everything. I can do a glitter craft project with the kids and three days later still find glitter stuck on my skin. I wonder how long James, John, and Peter had some of that glory glitter on them. Surely being in this holy moment wore off on them, transformed them to a degree too.

Do you think that can still happen with us? That if we show up and spend time communing with God on a regular basis that some of the glitter will rub off on us? That we can shine and gleam with God light too?

This question reminds me of an old story. A disciple once asked a teacher how we can know God. The teacher responds, there is nothing we can do to know God. It would be like us trying to make the sun rise. The disciple gets upset and asks “Why have I been spending so much time in prayer and study of Scripture? Is it all for nothing?” Then the teachers answers, no my student, we do these things so that we may be awake when the sun rises.

I encourage you today to stay awake. To seek God so fiercely that you will be there when the God’s glory is revealed to you. And then you too will be transformed into a version of yourself that is a little more like Christ, a little more full of his light and covered with the glitter of heaven. So that we may shimmer and shine for others, leading them step by step closer to the source of all light and love.

Happy 20th Anniversary to Me: A Gift of a Story Meant to Make You Laugh

So today marks twenty years that I have been married to my beloved Jason. We have been doing some serious celebrating of this milestone anniversary. We’ve also been pretty reflective of our relationship: what makes it tick, what makes it last, what got it started.

We both agree we thought of each other as marriage material pretty much upon first meeting, certainly upon our first date. A lot of things went right on that date, but none so funny as what has become known in our common lore as the “Fruit Cocktail” story. In a time when much on the internet raises our blood pressure, I hope this story makes you laugh and smile.

On my Anniversary, here is my gift to you:

Once upon a time there was a boy. A nineteen year old boy who was bright and mischievous on the outside but true and kind on the inside. One day the boy met one of his besties for lunch at Chick-fil-A, which made sense as they both were enrolled at a Baptist school together and strongly believed true love waits. The true love waits crowd has always loved Chick-fil-A.

To the boy’s surprise that day the bestie brought a tag-a-long. Another true love waits girl though she did not go to the Baptist school and was a stranger to the boy. The tag-a-long girl made the boy’s heart race and mouth talk fast. But the boy was a good boy inside so instead he just asked for the tag-a-long girl’s phone number a respectable number of days later.

A date was made between the good but mischievous boy and the new heart racy girl. The boy promised a picnic. The girl thought, “how romantic.” What the new girl didn’t know was that the boy was joking with his bestie every day that he was going to have “Fruit Cocktail” with the girl on the first date.

A word about “Fruit Cocktail.” The bestie was very shy and sweet and she blushed every time the word “sex” was spoken out loud. Because the boy was so mischievous he took to saying the word sex in her presence regularly just to make her ears go red. Then one day the bestie’s ex boyfriend walks by and asked, “What is so funny?”

Though the boy was mischievous he was too kind and good to ever really hurt his friend so he said the first thing that came into his mind, “We were just talking about the cafeteria’s fruit cocktail.” This worked out well in the end as now the boy could even just say “fruit cocktail,” and the bestie would blush.

So the boy teased the bestie relentlessly the week before the big date that he was going to have “fruit cocktail” with her friend. What the boy didn’t know is though bestie was his good good friend, girls always stick together. So bestie told tag along/heart race girl the fruit cocktail stories. Heart race girl was bright and a little mischievous too so she just laughed and said, “We’ll see about that.”

The date between the boy and heart race girl was lovely. The picnic was lovely. There were flowers and candles and you guessed it . . . .little cans of fruit cocktail for dessert. Actual fruit cocktail with grapes and pieces of pears and the occasional red cherry. When the boy offered heart race girl a can of fruit cocktail to his surprise she perked up and said, “Oh, I love fruit cocktail. It’s my favorite.” He snickered to himself. Wait until he told bestie what her friend had said.

But then heart race girl went on. She kept talking about how very good the fruit cocktail was and how she only wished she could have had more. It had been so long since the girl had eaten fruit cocktail that was this good.

Now it was the boy’s turn to have red ears and the girl’s turn to snicker to herself as she tucked away the can once filled with grapes and pears and the bright red cherries and wiped her mouth neatly with a napkin.

I will not pretend to know what the boy thought on his way home that night, but what I do know is he never suspected that heart race girl was a prankster too. After all, aren’t all girls just sugar and spice, heavy on the sugar side?

It was a great surprise to the boy when he went back to bestie to tell her all the funny things heart race girl had said, only to see bestie not blush but fall on the floor laughing. “Man, she really got you good,” bestie proclaimed. The boy tried to process this new information. The girl knew what she was doing all along going on and on about fruit cocktail and how much she loved it and how good the boy’s fruit cocktail was.

At first the boy was embarrassed. But then he called the girl to make another date. Because there is nothing this particular prankster liked more than a sweet looking girl who could beat him at his own game.

The End.

Actually, it was just the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

Community Matters: a Sermon on 1 Kings 19 and Galatians 3

I have gotten more chances to preach recently, which I love. Although I don’t usually share sermons on this site, this one felt important somehow. May these words bless you

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I have just returned from a one week trip in the North Georgia mountains celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. It was really nice for Jason and I to have a time of rest together. A time to unplug from the chaos and troubles of the world and reconnect to ourselves, each other and God. But we also spent a lot of time celebrating. Because living together as a married couple for 20 years and still liking each other much less being in love is a big deal.

Jason and I laughed many times on the trip about how although we have lived in relative harmony for 20 years we are quite different. As we visited a winery in North Georgia, he liked the dry red wines; I liked the sweet whites. He liked to sit in the sun outside the cabin while I picked shady spots to play in the creek. He got up early every morning, I slept. He ran everyday. I don’t run unless I’m being chased. You get the point, we are a yin and yang couple in many ways yet we have been able to live in community with one another for these many years. Don’t get me wrong. There have been tough times, but we have persevered. I guess there is something bigger than our differences that keeps us together.

Now we went away to the mountains to rest in celebration, but we see Elijah this morning going to the mountain for a very different reason. He is exhausted. He has been having it out with King Ahab and Jezebel who have turned the nation Israel away from God and is now running for his life. He has done BIG work trying to lead them back to God and what he got after all his efforts was a death sentence. So he flees. And then he crashes. Elijah is at this point what I would call bone tired. So tired and worn thin all he wants to do is lay down and die. So he lies under a broom tree and sleeps. An angel comes to him and brings bread and drink. He eats and drinks and falls right back to sleep. Not even angel food can rouse him from his exhaustion and despair. The angel comes and second time to feed him and sets him off on his journey to Mount Horeb to meet God.

Now we learn a lot about Elijah from his conversation with God on Mt Horeb. When God asks Elijah what he is doing on the mountain, Elijah answers thusly, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.” You catch the drama here. I have been zealous. They have been bad. Now they want to kill me. I don’t know if I am more struck by Elijah’s tattling nature or his egocentric belief that he is the only one left in the world that is following God. That everyone else is out to get him. It gets like this in bad times. My husband is a therapist and he talks about all these studies that show how stress not only narrows our vision, focusing us on the bad and blocking out the good around us. But it can also be quite isolating. Elijah believed he was entirely alone in the world. That is a bad feeling indeed.

Now how does God answer him? “Poor Elijah, I shall smite all those meanies for you. It’s going to be okay? Or, “You are right Elijah, this is awful. You best just give up and die.” No, what God does is give him a very special gift. The gift of experiencing God’s presence directly.

Then God tells Elijah to go back. Go back to your nation, your people, your community. Stop focusing so much on your problems with your enemies and focus more on living in community with those who can support you in living out your call.

God tells Elijah to seek out allies like Jehu and Hazael. To let them do the fighting. Then he tells him to pair up with Elisha and let Elisha partner with him. You can’t do it all by yourself Elijah. Let others help you.Then he throws in a mention of the seven thousand people in Israel who have not bowed to Ba’al.

Hmm. Looks like Elijah wasn’t so alone after all. Just worn out and at the end of himself. But the gift of being at the end of ourself is that is forces us to be open to letting others help us. To embrace community and let the community aid us. For God did create us to be alone but in community. Adam and Eve. Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God’s mark is all over community.

I was going to talk about the Geresene demoniac and pontificate about how Jesus sent him back to his community after being healed, but my husband and children said if I preached on three Scripture passages we’d be here all day. And after the events of the past couple of weeks the passage from Galatians began to really resonate with my heart. So let’s turn to Galatians.

For if we have any doubt about the importance of community for us as Christians and for all humans really, look to our passage from Galatians. The church in Galatia was one of the new Christian communities that Paul helped start. But after he left them it seems they turned to fighting. Yes, church squabbles are as old as Christianity itself. Some people were more focused on works and some more focused on faith in Christ. In last week’s lection Paul wrote them to tell them, “same coin, two sides”, faith and works go hand in hand.

But then Paul goes on to talk about the nature of Christian community itself. This is the famous, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female passage.”

Man, I don’t know about you but this passage speaks to me as loud today as ever.

Just tag on there is no longer democrat nor republican, gay or straight and you could make it a Facebook meme.

We are in a time of deep division in our nation, churches and even world. We live in a time when people are quick to draw lines of differences. To claim that they have the right way to live, to govern, to kill and die.

But Christ came to tell us that HE WAS THE WAY. Not that following him was the WAY, but being him was the way. In Galatians Paul talks about us clothing ourselves with Christ. He also says “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”

Think about that for a minute. If I hold to this as truth it means, I am no longer Dena Hobbs. I am not Episcopal or Southern or female or white or straight or a mom or a citizen of the USA. All that is gone. It is not the most important or true thing about me. What is the most important and true thing about me is that I am filled with Christ’s Spirit. Christ himself lives within me. Moves through me, speaks through me. And the same is true for all of us.

For the most important thing about us in not what divides us, it it is what unites us. The most important thing about us is not our race or nationality or political party or whether we like red or blue carpet in a church or hardwood. The most important thing about is that we are all saved by the grace of Christ and filled with God’s own Spirit.

That commonality is so big, so important, it leaves all the other details in the dust.

We are meant to be in community. And like Jason and I we will all have our differences and we will have our ups and downs. But what unites us is far greater than any of our differences.

So reach out to one another. Let others help when you are tired. Embrace the outsider who needs people to be with to be made whole. Always remember the truest thing that holds you together when all else fails. We are Christ’s. We are saved by Christ and filled by Christ. Christ lives in us!

If we can do this and be a witness to others of unity in the Spirit, there will be hope for the church and our world yet. So let us be one in Christ, and let us always bear witness to God’s salvation, healing and love. Amen.