Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

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Gratefully Received

My summer mission trip ended early when I took a bad mis-step on an unsecured porch edge and fell 4 1/2 feet to the ground, breaking both bones in my right ankle.  The last 2 weeks (tomorrow starts the third) have included an ER visit, surgery, a cast, crutches, and now the addition of a knee walker (which I think will be a lot of fun when I figure out how to use it!).  In an instant, my plans for the rest of the summer changed.

To say I was scared and worried in the Tuscaloosa ER would be an understatement.  What I did not know was how worried the rest of the mission team was when they saw me fall off a porch and then get loaded in a car and taken to the ER.  What felt like seconds to me was probably 15 minutes for the rest of them.  Several thought I had hit my head (which I did not!), and some did not get over to where I was before they had me in the car and on my way to the hospital.  When I got back to the church, Pat said to me “be positive”, and then we went in.  When I saw the mission team folks, their relief was palpable.  Their care was evident.  I was flooded with relief and gratitude. While I was being x-rayed and splinted and driven across town, they had made made get well cards (some of which still make me cry!) and packed up my things so I could head home.  The individuals who gathered to say goodbye to Maryellen and me were not just a church mission trip team – they were family.  I knew in that moment that the leadership team was going to be OK for the rest of the week – we had planned together, and they would finish out the week strong.  And they did.

Since the moment my foot hit the ground, I have been surrounded by so much love from our entire congregation (and from Maryellen, the pastor at Rockmart Pres.).  One of the things we talk about when we describe ourselves is our sense of community and how we are a church family.  This is not a trait that can describe every church, and I’m not sure our congregation always understands what a blessing and a gift that they are to each other.  It is a blessing to not have to worry about someone checking on you when there is an illness or surgery – around here, it simply happens.  We are blessed that we feel safe enough with each other to be vulnerable with one another.  I am re-learning the lesson that asking for help with meals means you have to let them in to see the not-perfect parts of your world.  But, there is a gift in being open to be loved, and then returning that love to one another in return.  This may not be the most articulate description, but I am surprised that I was surprised at our church just being who they are and caring for me in the same ways I have seen them care for one another.  That care is a gift I gratefully receive.

I think about how Christ modeled care for us.  I picture his hands breaking bread and feeding total strangers.  I think about him kneeling down to wash the feet of his disciples.  I picture his grief when he realized that Lazarus had really died.  I see the compassion he showed when he allowed an ill woman to simply touch his cloak.  In the meals brought, in the cards sent, in the words said by our congregation, I see the love and compassion and care of Christ.  The way my mother, a stranger to many, has been welcomed and fed and cared for as this church has cared for me reflects the way Christ taught us to live.    I realize that we as a church can take for granted the care we show one another and not realize that it is not natural in every church.  FPC Cartersville has the gifts of compassion, hospitality, love, and care, and I am grateful for them.  Not just tonight as I ice my ankle after a visit from one of our Deacons, but every night as I get to be part of our witness to Christ in the world.


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An Advent Handprint

Last week our church, through the Deacon’s Fund, helped a family here in town that is staying at the Good Neighbor Homeless Shetler.  This family is a woman and a 2 year-old that she is raising for another member of her family. Their car had broken down and the mom had no transportation to and from work.  She was walking, in the dark and cold, late at night with the toddler in a stroller until she could get her car fixed.  The auto repair place graciously fixed the car so that she could safely get back and forth to work, and released the vehicle back to her before the bill was settled.  Now the child and mom had a reliable, safe way to get to and from work – she just needed to settle the bill.  The Director of the shelter called us, which is not a usual occurance, and asked if we could help.  We paid the bill and on Monday the Director of the Shelter came by with a note for us.  The guest does not know who her benefactors are, and so she wrote a note to thank us for our generousity, kindness, and love.  Affixed to the outside of the envelope was a handprint cut from paper with the fruits of the spirit on it – Love, Hope, Peace, Faith, and Joy.  The handprint is that of the child who no longer has to be out in the dark and the cold while her caregiver walks home from work.

I am grateful for the agencies and organizations in our community that work together to care for those in need.  While a $140 car repair bill may not be insurmountable to many of us, for this family, it was.  When you are getting back on your feet and working paycheck to paycheck, every little bit helps.  Last night, our Deacon’s served almost 100 people at Friendship Table.  That is almost 100 people in our community who had a hot meal last night and some to take home with them.  They had a chance to come in for a little while out of the 41 degree, rainy weather and spend some time in fellowship and experience hospitality.  Our Deacons who had not served in a while were awed by the numbers and the folks who said “Thank you.”

This weekend at the church is our International and Community Christmas Market.  We will be open from Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 9:30-2.  In addition to the goods from 10,000 Villages, we will also have community agencies with information and opportunities to support their work in the community. In my mind, this is not as much about Christmas shopping as it is being part of a community that affirms we care about those who need us.   Jesus was not born in a hospital, but in a stable.  He was not dressed in fancy smocked outfits with monagrams on the front, but wrapped in strips of cloth – whatever his parents could find.  Last night, as I counted the numbers of men, women, and children standing in line, I had a flash of Jesus being born to folks just like those standing there.  Not only to them, but for them. One of  our calls as followers of Jesus is to care for those who may not have a place to live or meals to eat.  Not only care for them, but also care about them.  There is a difference.

Than handrpint is on my desk – I’m having a hard time letting it move to the bulletin board in our office.  In this tiny hand are the fruits of the spirit, and the messages of Christ – love, faith, hope, peace, and joy. Looking at that tiny handprint, thinking about those who stood in line to eat, and those who serve them, I see the difference  even small actions can make.  The hope offered by paying a car repair bill or offering a hot meal without questions, expectations, or judgment.  I am grateful to be part of this work, work that lets me find ways to see an infant in a manger every day.



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747 Rocks in a Bowl

I am coming to the place where one of the places I consistently find joy in my week is the weekly chapel service I lead with our After School Program children.  Around 150 children, grades K-3, their teachers and para-pros, a piano player and I participate in weekly worship and singing.  It is loud, a little crazy, not always predictable, and really fun.  The last 2 weeks I have walked out of the sanctuary so glad for the time I get to spend telling the smallest people in the building the they are loved by God.  Today, the crux of the lesson was that I cared enough about them to count out 747 small rocks into a bowl and know exactly how many were in there, but only God loves us enough to know how many hairs are in our heads –all of us all the time. 

For many of these children, our church and their school may be one of the few places they hear how great they are.  They are labeled “at risk” and have to be referred to our program for poor test scores and academic performance.  We are working hard to increase our diversity – -the population is mostly Hispanic.  Some are churched, some are not.  For most, I am the first woman minister they have seen.  It does not seem to phase them. 

My goals for chapel are pretty low, between you and me.  Teach them that this is God’s house.  Tell them the story of God and Jesus.  Teach some of the basic songs I learned growing up.  Tell them they are loved and church is a safe place.  Show them that God and Christ will always care for them.  Some weeks it can be the most missional thing I do.  It has been interesting for me to wrap my head around figuring out how to teach a third grader who God is – I don’t remember learning “who is God” – that fact was as basic to my being as “who are my parents”.  So I talk, they listen.  We sing and dance.  The theology of “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light” and “The Bible is a Special Book” probably teach more than I do.  But we have fun.  No one cares that I sing off key, or sometimes forget the motions.  Together we learn about grace when the music leaders have to work together.  I am indebted to our new organist who helped me find some new songs to teach, and teachers who are willing to sing the Butterfly Song for 4 weeks in a row. 

Last week I passed a class in the hall on their way to snack.  One of the little boys stopped me and asked about my left hand – the one that only has 2 fingers.  “That’s how God made me special.  Just like God made you special.”  He looked at me and said “and God loves us both, right?  Can we have chapel today?”  That’s why today I counted out 747 rocks, one at a time.  Because we had chapel and they are special and they need to know.  God loves us.

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Mission Trip Reflection: Denise Manning

Denise Manning is one of the church members who went to Tuscaloosa last weekend.  I asked the group to provide some reflections, and sent them some guiding questions for their writing.  Here are Denise’s thougths about our time of service.

Why did you go on this trip?-I was so moved by all the coverage on the television and the devastation.  I just wanted to do anything to help.

How was it different from what you expected?-I was surprised at the clean up that has taken place so far but at the same time surprised at how much is left to do.  I really did not have many expectations.  I think on these type trips you know you may be walking into any situation.

Where did you see God during our time away?-I saw God in so many places while we were there.  One example that I kept going back to was the sun peeking through the clouds each day. I noticed that a number of times while we were there.  This made me think that God is always there even in the bad times when we think we do not see him, he is like the sun peeking through the clouds to give us hope and remind us he is always with us.  I also saw God in the many individuals we met.  From the stories we heard about people helping people they have never met to the many volunteers we met along the way.  It is refreshing to see all the good that does happen in the world that mostly goes unnoticed. The news was filled with the devastation all over the world but not the wonderful things that are happening in Alabama today.

Share one story from someone you met.-The one story would like to share is of the individual who I assisted at the warehouse.  She was looking to replace some of her things.  I was assisting her in trying to find some clothing etc.  She would ask me, does this look good together, what do you think?  Here is a person who has lost everything but trying to make the most out of what she can and really looking to me for assistance.  In truth I had no idea what I was doing but felt I truly am helping this person.  It broke my heart when we could not find some of the items she needed and made me realize once again how lucky we are each day.  Here is she wanting ANYTHING, she did not care of it matched or was used she just needed some items.  Even something little such as socks that no one thinks about.  Just imagine the items they do not have?!  I was helping her load the items she had chosen in her car and I asked her, did you lose everything?  She responded, “yes I lost everything, my trailer is completely gone.”  We cannot imagine what that must feel like to lose ALL of your possessions and your home as well.  She was not bitter though just thankful for everything she was able to find in the warehouse.  It makes me think about how much more I can/should do to help people in need.  It does not take a lot of time just a willing heart. 

How did it feel to see the damage firsthand?  How did that compare with what you expected? For me it was surreal to see the damage firsthand.  Seeing things on the television of course hurts your heart but being there is so vastly different.  On the television you do not see the people helping each other.  You do not hear the stories of what they have lost and how they all pitched in to help each other.  Neighbors who had never met were helping each other.  I do not think there are words to describe how you feel when you are seeing all the damage.  There is just no rhyme or reason.  Five houses may have tremendous damage and then one house right next to them is standing tall with no damage whatsoever.  It just does not make sense.  I took a number of picture but found again when I was sharing them with others they cannot feel what I felt being there and seeing it in person. 

What was the best/worst part of the trip?-The best part of the trip to me was getting to know some people in the church a little better and hearing the stories that people had to tell about assisting each other.  The worst part of the trip  would be the heat. 

How are you different now than you were before?– I would like to think I am a little more understanding and sympathetic to what people may be going through.  It is hard though when you are away from it and get back to the day to day to keep those images fresh. 

What else needs to be done in the area?  How can our church(es) continue to support this community? EVERYTHING.  They need so much help.  I mean we worked for two days and there were a number of volunteers at just that location and we could see there was still so much to be done.  We can donate our time, send giftcards so they can give to people in need.  We can send donations of specific needs etc.

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Mission Trip Pictures: Damage

These are some of the pictures I took in the Glendale Gardens Area of Tuscaloosa.  I’m having a hard time with uploading the photos to WordPress, so I will have to put the rest on Facebook.  If you click on the images below, you can make them larger.

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Mission Trip, Day 2: Pictures

I ran out of words last night (Friday night) to use to describe what we have seen and done.  Instead I offer you a few pictures.  On the itinerary for today is driving around and looking more closely at the damage, and heading back to the Temporary Services Warehouse to continue sorting and organizing.  Then a trip to TCBY and we will be on the road home!

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Mission Trip to Tuscaloosa, AL: Thursday

On April 27th, I had a meeting at church, and came home to watch a little TV and go to bed.  The weather was awful and so we hurried home.  All that was on TV was the news about the weather moving through our area – weather that had moved through Alabama earlier that day.  As I watched the weather people tag-team the storm progress, the sirens for the city sounded, and I herded the cats to our bathroom (and yes, it was herding and chasing cats — only took 4 tries to get them both in there).  Armed with my radio tuned to the local station and still watching the red and yellow and green move across the screen, I waited to see what would happen next.  I prayed, and the news announcers said “if you are in downtown, you are OK, the sirens are for….”  That was the news that I at least was safe.  It was an uneasy night to say the least.

In the months since, I have driven past areas that were damaged.  I have seen snapped trees from the roadside, the town of Ringgold as visible from the interstate just flattened.  In my head, I thought I knew what I was going to see when we came to Tuscaloosa today.  I was wrong.

We thought it was a big deal when our Hobby Lobby closed because the roof caved in after flooding rains.  We drove past one today (that I did not get a picture of) that was demolished.  The letters from the sign gone – rubble being the word to describe what we saw around us in the part of town we drove through.  But it is indiscriminate rubble.  Almost across the street was an upscale shopping center that looked like new – -untouched and undamaged.  War Zones look better than the little bit of what we saw today.  There are bilboards for attorneys who want to expedite tornado claims (ambulance chasers turned storm chasers?) and one billboard that simply said “God Bless Tuscaloosa” with the black and white checked ribbon on it.

Tonight we were welcomed warmly by the folks at University and we went to a local restaurant for dinner.  On the list of suggestions, the places that are still here are marked.  The others are either gone or closed.  It seems there is a strange balance of “normal” and “may never be normal again.”  Our dinner at a local college hangout juxtaposed with the shells of buildings we passed on our way into town will remain a strong memory for me.

As our team is here this weekend, we are going to be asking ourselves where we saw God each day in the midst of where we are.  Today I saw it when Suzanne, the woman who greeted us, said “thank you for coming to help us”, even as I was wondering if we will be able to make much of a dent in what we see.

The six of us on this trip will be blogging about it either while we are here, or when we get back, so you can see our experiences.  Please keep us, and this community in your prayers in the coming days.