During the waiting period...

During the waiting period...
Sal & Kim - Near Ouray, CO - October, 2012 - one of our favorite pictures and places!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Our Listening God

  I've been reminded again recently about how involved God is in our everyday lives.  This last Sunday I shared with the congregation at Sardis how one of our parishioners, Marion, had shared with me a couple of weeks ago how God had helped her.  
  Marion had those knots in her stomach.  You know the kind - when your anxiety is about as high as it can go and you're starting to shut down when you really can't afford to be shutting down?  She had a big list, lots of things to prepare and all sorts of relatives arriving soon to join in the festivities for the church's 200th anniversary celebration.  Her anxiety had gotten to the point where she couldn't stand it any longer (one of those "Popeye moments," right?  "That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more!"), and she sat down and prayed to God - pleading with Him to take the stress, take the anxiety, and let her function and do her work in His peace.   As Marion told me the story tears filled her eyes and she said, "Sally, no sooner had I prayed for God to take that anxiety...and it was gone, just like that!"  It was so very obvious that God had made an appearance in her life and helped her in her time of need - it brought tears to my eyes as well.
  Now fast forward another week.  The celebration was a huge success, you'd think life would've calmed down - but for me it was still going 1000 miles an hour.  I still had two big commitments with  the presbytery that were weighing heavily on me and I found myself in the exact same spot Marion had been the week prior.  I was so overwhelmed with how big my list was and how much I had to do that I was near tears and could hardly function (kind of that "deer in the headlights" place).  As I shared this too with the congregation, I wondered aloud, "Why is it that we have to be so totally at the end of our rope before we'll seriously hand things over to God and be willing to receive His help?"  I don't have the answer, but that's where I was at.
  I sat in my study with my hands outstretched pleading for God to take away the knot that had made its way into my gut.  Take it away so I could get to sleep at a decent hour and wake up at a normal one.  Not surprisingly, just like Marion it was instantaneously gone.
  Over and over God has shown me in my life that He hears and answers prayers - and usually they're answered in the most extraordinary ways!  I have absolutely no reason for waiting until things get so bad - and it's not that I don't pray, or that I even didn't pray about the things on my to do list.  I just didn't seriously give them over or expect any kind of huge answer.  What the heck?!
  Today I just happened to decide to listen to a sermon by a Colorado pastor who preached about
prayer.  He talked about how prayer is a Christ-follower's go-to answer to everything that goes on in our lives and in our churches.  Somehow we think that working harder or talking more or giving a good argument are somehow better, but time and again God keeps showing me how when I give things to Him in prayer - He works things through SO much better than I ever could or would.
  I've shared with a few folks how I have programmed into my phone on my reminders, two prayer alerts.  The first is at 10:02am - that reminds me every day of Luke 10:2, and so I pray daily for God to send out workers into His harvest - because it's plentiful and we always need more.  I pray also right then for my church.  Then at noon I get another alert to pray for my elders.  I try to pray for each one and their spouse individually, but sometimes it's just a blanket prayer.  I share that because I can literally tell when I have slacked off on my praying, especially for my elders.  When I've allowed myself to be so busy that I can't even take 10-15 minutes to stop and pray for my elders I can see it in my relationships with them.  
  Prayer is such a gift when we do it.  When we ask God with a heart believing that He is not only listening, but that He will answer our prayers in the perfect way and at the perfect time - conforming our hearts to His, conforming our wills to His.  We have no reason to carry anxiety when we approach God and give Him our junk in prayer.  What freedom it gives us to continue on in life without worry.  We don't have to run away from the tough stuff, we don't have to hide in fear.  We don't have to buck up and be superman or wonder woman either.  God hears our prayers, knows our hearts, and will lift our burdens as we give them to Him to carry.
  One of my favorite verses comes from Deuteronomy 31:8 -
The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

  I'm so thankful that God continues to show His power and activity in my life, and what a privilege I have of sharing it with others who will hear and be encouraged in their own faith as well.  Can't wait to see what's next. :)


Monday, June 8, 2015

It is well with my soul.

   Surgery day.  I talked with Kim this morning and he sounded extraordinarily strong and confident.  Thank You, Jesus.  I had a text around 8am that Sean had just landed in Charlotte.  Last night his connecting flight was late due to weather and he missed his flight to Raleigh so they rebooked him three hours later to Charlotte.  But he's landed and he's here.  Thank You, Jesus.
   I was just reading on WebMD about holes in lungs and trying to more fully understand and visualize what exactly we're dealing with.  Of course they list every (not-so-bad and really horrible) possibility and so it's easy for my mind to take off down rabbit trails of scary possibilities for Kim…  Nada reminded me this morning that we can be thankful that, if there is something that the docs need to find they will, and if nothing else that his lung collapsed now instead of some other time when he wasn't right around all this medical help.  Thank You, Jesus.
   I've been listening a lot to the song It is Well that Kristene DeMarco and Bethel Music sing - a new version of It is Well With My Soul.  It's a beautiful song and takes me to such a place of submission and humility and worship…  I found myself sitting here at the kitchen table in the quiet of this place and the music playing….my hands go out with palms up.

   "Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You.  Through it all, through it all, it is well.
     Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You, and it is well, it is well…
     So let it go my soul and trust in Him, the waves and wind still know His name…
     So let it go my soul and trust in Him, the waves and wind still know His name…
     It is well…. with my soul.   It is well…. with my soul.  
     It is well…. with my soul.   It is well…. with my soul."

   As I sit here listening with my palms open to the Lord I think of how this posture is such a good way to live - giving up and receiving both.  Not even always knowing what I'm to give up, but simply sitting here, arms outstretched asking God to take what I should not be holding on to.  At the same time asking God to give me all that I need to face what I will face this day or any day…but I know that God usually deals simply with today.  (I think there's something to learn in that..)
   It's hard to be in that posture with those prayers going on in your heart and mind and not be weeping like a lost child whose just been found.  Because it's not that you're scared necessarily, it's that you're held, you're safe, and you know it…no matter what.  It's relief! 
   When the trust is there we can believe that God will take those things we don't need to hold on to, and He will provide all we need to cope, to function, and even to thrive and excel in whatever we're dealing with.  What an amazing God we have.  How I wish that more people could know the God I know.  There is such peace.  That wholeness, that the Hebrew word "shalom," peace really means.  Wholeness  that we can't reach by our own efforts.
   Thank You, Jesus.  It is well with my soul this day, no matter what comes.  Thanks be to God.


It is Well

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Well, it's Sunday and we're not at church...

   So this morning was exciting because Sarah arrived last night and so we tried to figure out the best scenario to surprise Kim with her presence.  We picked up a breakfast sandwich at Hardees along with a coffee for Kim and went up to His room.  When we got here I went in the room and gave him his food and then Sarah Facetimed me on the phone and I had her talk with Kim.  She talked about wishing that she was here with him, and then she walked in the door!  Kim had just taken a bite of food and was like, "Oh, my God!" He was truly shocked…and then overcome.
   After we were here a bit the nurse-practitioner from the thoracic surgeon's office came in to have Kim sign paperwork for permission to operate tomorrow.  They are hoping that all they'll need to do is go in and do some minor work through a small hole.  They'll be assisted by a small camera they'll put in as well, and they're looking for the few places where there are "pockets" where his lung is still a little collapsed - like little folds. They would cut those out to help the outside of the lung seal against the inside of the chest wall fully.  They'll also look for the hole to see what's going on with it.
   She said, like always, if they find they need to do more or do something more invasive it may mean a larger incision and a bigger deal overall.  Their hope is that they can just do what needs to be done with the smaller incision and minor work, and then they'll have an additional chest tube in to help get the lung inflated fully.  She said it would then be around 2-3 days recovery and maybe he could go home Thursday or Friday - that's if they do the minor not major procedures.
   So our prayer is that they can do what needs to be done just doing the minor procedure….
   In our chatting we were just talking about "thin places" - Kim, Sarah and me.  Kim was talking geographically about how the next volcano will more than likely be formed in Yellowstone because of the activity already there and the "thin place" that it is - there isn't much between the surface and the turmoil below.  Then we were talking about the "thin places" in Kim's lungs, presumably "thinned" by years of smoking, that seem to have "broken through" because of their thinness.  
   So I then talked about how I've read of "thin places" theologically.  Those times in our lives when the sh%# hits the fan, life is way out of control, and we find ourselves dealing with God in ways that we previously hadn't.  There was a meme on Facebook today that kind of grasps the idea…  It talked about people that we admire for their strength and grace - they didn't get that way because life went perfectly. They got that way because life hit them upside the head and they had to learn how to handle it in a thousand different ways.  You get the idea.  The unexpected crap in our lives, the hard things, the difficult relationships that we try to wade through provide opportunities of "thin places" where God is so very very close if we but reach out to Him, look His direction, or invite Him to play a part in our lives.  Or maybe it's allowing yourself to receive instead of always playing the stoic, letting people come and minister to you, taking time to step back and chill a bit and not have to pretend that life is fine and you can handle everything without missing a beat.
   Sarah talked about those "thin places" being times when we're our most vulnerable - the masks are gone, the buffers have been stripped away, and the real you is exposed to God and everyone else…  It can be very scary for many people.
   I find myself, in "thin" times like this, asking myself, "What is God wanting to teach me or say to me?"  It may have nothing to do with me and everything to do with Kim and his relationship with the Lord, but I'm guessing God will use this time for both of us - if not many of us…  
   "Thin places."  The place or time where the membrane between the world we live in and the Kingdom of God are ever-so-close.  It seems like we would long to be in that place all the time, but more often than not we're overwhelmed by it.  Maybe if we "let go" sooner instead of hanging on so tightly it wouldn't be so hard.
   So pray for God to do a work in each of us as we hang out in this "thin place" for awhile.   Another new birth, another transformation choreographed by our God who doesn't like to leave us how we are or where we're at, but continues to challenge and stretch and beckon us to come even closer and experience more of His Kingdom instead of our own…
   Pray for Kim tomorrow around noon when he has the next surgery.  As always, thank you for your prayers and your emails and texts and FB messages of encouragement.  I really do feel like we have a large community carrying us through this craziness.

May the adventure continue…(and then take a little breather!)  Lol!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Caught Off Guard

  Today has been up and down - in other words, normal.  The day started with Kim calling and telling me that the ICU doc told him he'd be in the ICU for the weekend.  Booo.  I know it was discouraging for Kim even more.  Then I had a call from Sarah and she said that a friend of ours in Grand Junction has offered to buy her a plane ticket here so she can come be with her dad and me.  What a huge blessing!  So the ticket is bought and she'll be here tomorrow night around 7.  I can't even begin to say what a big deal that is.  Friends and church folks are absolutely wonderful, but there's nothing like your own family to be with you in times like this.  I am so very very grateful.
  I had to do some business this morning… balance the checkbook, see where the money is at, pay some bills, get a hold on things.  Thankfully we're good financially and have no worries at this point.  (We haven't seen his hospital bill yet…ha ha!!)
  I finally got everything done and went to Qdoba to pick us up some lunch.  I thought it might be nice to have a little "taste of home" for Kim.  He loves the Mexican gumbo so I got him a small bowl.
  As I walked into the main floor of the hospital something caught me by surprise….music.  It really caught me off guard.  I got a lump in my throat and my eyes welled up.  I looked over and there were three teenage girls on a fiddle, mandolin, and string bass playing some awesome bluegrassy fun music.  I gave a grin through my tears, wanting to stay and listen more but knowing that Kim had been waiting all morning, I went to the elevators.  All I could think was - these girls have no idea how much of an impact they make, providing that little window of normal in this not-so-normal place.
  It makes me think now how I have underestimated the value of my own music before, and then had people tell me how wonderful it was for me to bring my guitar with me on a visit to their home or the hospital/care center.  Nothing over the top, just a couple sweet songs about Jesus.  These little things that God gives us to bring others joy…  We so often forget them or think that there are only "certain" places that are the appropriate places for us to offer them.  I'm learning otherwise.  We get all caught up in what people might think about us (like we're being prideful or something), when in actuality the majority of folks find blessing in it.
  I will be encouraging folks even more now to use whatever you've been given to bring joy and healing and a smile to others.  It might not be something like music.  It might be handyman skills that you can use to fix some little thing that's been bugging someone.  It might be cleaning or organizing gifts that you can use to spruce up someone's house or organize a pantry or linen/bathroom closet.  (I did that once for someone - after they got over the pride thing about having a dirty house - and they were thrilled.)  Maybe it's taking care of a beloved pet, watering plants or yard, reading to someone, getting and going through their mail and/or helping with their bills..  Or like my friend Nada, providing a place of refuge and a glass of wine with some laughter to forget the craziness of what's going on.  The list is endless, but you get the idea.
  The folks in the ICU now tell us that a regular room is in the process of being lined up and cleaned for Kim, and he should hopefully be moving into it sometime this afternoon.  Thank you, Jesus.
  He knows our needs way before we do and provides at exactly the right time.  I am no longer surprised by His provision in our life, simply grateful and at peace.
  I haven't been worried or anxious during this time here at the hospital.  The seriousness of the chest tube certainly caught me off guard, but I really do trust that God has everything in hand - even if it seems things are going badly.  I trust He will use this time - I know that He already has in so many ways - to grow both of us, closer to Him and closer to each other.  I pray that in sharing the journey it can open others' eyes to the awesome love, strength, and provision that God promises and offers each of us.
  We're not done yet, but the light is bright at the end of the tunnel.  So I'll keep pointing to it for Kim until he can see it on his own as brightly as I can.  The grace and peace of Jesus are mine.

Thanks be to God.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hospital Layover - part 2

  After that last blog I just had to update…
  I didn't fall asleep until around 4am this morning.  I took three chairs in the waiting room, the middle one didn't have arms, and put them in a line so I could lay down.  I woke up around 7:45 hearing the same woman I went to sleep hearing…  Her husband had been brought in last night after having a massive stroke.  She had been on the phone most of the night.
  She apologized for waking me if she did, and asked if it was my husband in the ICU.  I told her yes and just a little of our situation.  She said yes, hers was too and told me the story of calling her husband during a break at bingo and getting no answer, calling a sister-in-law who went over and found her husband Terry on the floor.  They're telling the woman, Pat, that if her husband survives it will be years of recovery, if there is much to be had.
  I sat there thinking, this is who I was praying for last night…the one who doesn't have anyone.  She has three grown kids who are at jobs that they can't leave unless they want to lose them.  So I asked if I could pray for her.
  She came over and I told her I was a pastor and she said her husband is a pastor as well.  So through tears I prayed for Pat and her husband Terry as we held hands, praying very honestly how scary it is to pray prayers that we don't know will be answered with a "yes" or not…but we still come to God knowing that we won't be left to ourselves - even if no other human is there.
  O God, continue to comfort and guide Pat as she faces some very difficult days, with or without her dear husband.  Thank You that I have been blessed with even one more day with my own dear Kim, each day a new gift from You.

Use well this day you've been given.


Hospital Layover

  This is the last place I expected to find myself - scrunched up on a "couch" that's the length of two seats with nice, hard, metal armrests at either end, my feet sticking through the end of my far armrest into the next couch's armrest so I can stretch out my legs.  It's 1:09am and my husband Kim is laying in the ICU having had a chest tube put in because he had a collapsed lung.
  We came here early Monday morning so Kim could have surgery on his back for two compressed vertebrae that were going to be separated and new disc material put in and everything screwed back together.  The surgery went well and the doc said his back looks good.  It was a long day, and when I left at 6:30pm Monday night to go stay at a friend's house he was in a lot of pain and they were trying to get it under control…  I felt bad leaving, but if I didn't I'd have to stay the night because I can't drive in the dark.
  The next day Kim was a lot better up and walking around, still trying to get all the plumbing to start working again, but overall feeling pretty good.  We were hoping things would get going so that we'd be able to leave for home today - as home is two hours away.
  When I came back this morning he wasn't doing so hot.  Even though he was able to go a little the night before, they had ended up having to put a catheter in.  That was helping (as his whole body had begun to retain a lot of fluid), but he was still really uncomfortable in his gut and was nauseous.  We went from bad to worse - enema, meds, throwing up, back pain, oxygen levels lower than they should be, and then - after feeling a bit better and trying to take a little walk around the hall, his heart went into afib.  The next thing we new the room was full of nurses and doctors and EKG people and chest X-rays and blood work are being ordered.
  They eventually got some meds in him that got his heartbeat normal and steady again, and Kim was finally getting some rest when the phone rang and it was the doc that had been in this afternoon.  She got his bloodwork and chest X-ray back and saw that his right lung in the X-ray was totally collapsed. (Explains the low oxygen levels!)
  Earlier around dinner time I had decided to stay at the hospital tonight and just sleep in the chair in his room that pulls out into a bed…but now they were carting Kim off to the ICU to put the chest tube in, drain off the fluid, and inflate his lung.  Wait, wait…..wait…what??????
  I sat in the ICU waiting room for a while all our stuff piled on a chair, texting family and church members, calling the kids, acting calm…but I wasn't calm.  My friend Nada who I'd been staying with offered to come over, and I told her she didn't need to do that, she works in the morning…but she said she'd be happy to, and so I welcomed the company…and the chocolate bar she brought me.
  It's odd being on the "other" end of pastoral care.  So many times I've wondered if people really wanted me to come and sit with them or not….  I know there were times in the last days when I was really thankful that no one else was with me/us.  But this evening was different.  When I was talking with that doctor on the phone I could feel the tears welling up and I was trying not to be upset so I could explain to Kim what was going to go down fairly quickly.  I was freaking out a little bit and just wanted to go off and cry with someone somewhere and be hugged but I kind of had to be present so I couldn't.  Sometimes I hate being the strong one.
  You know it's funny.  I'm always one that poo-poo's off various maladies as being not too serious (poor Kim).  I don't know if it's the eternal optimist in me or what, but I'm just always sure that things aren't as serious as they are….and I think tonight that kind of caught up with me (and bit me in the ass).  Nothing like being proven wrong to bring about a bit of well-deserved humility.
  When I last saw Kim he was all snuggled up in blankets, his chest tube was in, he wasn't in pain (in a morphine euphoria), and he was ready to nod off into la-la land.
  That brings me to where I am currently, in an tiny little waiting room with horrible seats, no room to lay down, a nice bright Pepsi machine staring me in the face.  Poor me.  Amazing how we keep circling back to ourselves...

  Tomorrow will be a new day though, and there is much to be thankful for.

  • Great medicine and doctors and nurses who do a thorough job and don't assume they know everything.  
  • Wonderful people who reach out via social media, via text messages and phone calls, and in a variety of ways let you know that you're not alone and that you're surrounded in prayer.  
  • An awesome church family who - 
    • before we left came to our house and laid hands on Kim and prayed for him, 
    • gathered after their bowling this morning and prayed for us both, 
    • gathered tonight for their regular bible study and prayed for us some more, 
    • continued to email, text and call letting us know of their love, concern, and on-going prayers for us both,
    • and have made sure I know that whatever needs to be prepared for Sunday service to happen will be taken care of and I don't need to worry about any of it.
  We are blessed beyond belief, and God is in our midst.  I don't know when we'll actually end up heading back home - the last they said was a couple of days.  Whenever it is…I know we're ok, and we will be ok.  God has surrounded us with so many people who love and care for us it's hard to even fathom.  My prayer this night, as I've had an hour now to contemplate all this, is to pray for those who don't have the wonderful support that we do.  Who, despite being surrounded by many people may feel totally alone and without hope.
  O God, help me to never forget this time, and to reach out with the love of Jesus to people in their times of need - whether they realize they need it or not.  The ministry of presence is what God showed us in Jesus Christ, God with us.  No words necessary.  No special scriptures read.  Just show up.
  Thanks, Nada, for just showing up tonight and being present with me.  You were Jesus for me tonight.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life in the NC

Wow, has it been a long time since I've posted anything.  I had grand plans when we came to NC back in 2013 to keep up with this, but ministry easily took over.  I truly feel like this is the first time in a really long time that I've had the opportunity to actually slow down a bit and ponder.

So much has gone on since we came here, there's no way to even scratch the surface.  I've learned so much about people and ministry and myself.  I've done five funerals and two baptisms (one being our grandson Rilo, in FL).  We've had numerous folks share our living space in this big house - sometimes only for a short visit, other times for months on end.  We've made friends both within and outside of the church, and still feel very strongly that we are where we're supposed to be.

Kim went to Campbell University for a semester and then switched to Fayetteville State University and is hoping to complete his degree in geography in the next 12-18 months.  He's doing really well in school is excited for the job opportunities this degree may open up for him.  Emma, our sweet furry girl follows him wherever he goes around the house, but then takes up residence at my feet when Kim leaves for school.

I seem to have filled every crevice of time with ministry activities.  Besides the weekly responsibilities of sermon preparation and the bulletin and insert preparations I go to choir every Wednesday evening - both singing with them and sometimes teaching them a contemporary song with the guitar.  We usually do one contemporary song along with two hymns in our worship on Sundays.  After choir practice is usually bible study at the manse.  We've had anywhere from two to twenty-two depending on the night!  We definitely feel the Lord's presence so much more when we are steeped in His word, and we really enjoy having people regularly in our home.  We share dinner together and then do the study and prayer, and it's always good…I never get tired of it.

Almost right away I hooked up with a pastor's group in a nearby town that meets weekly to discussion the scripture and sermon possibilities using the lectionary texts.  I'm the sole woman, and not quite the youngest - but close.  They're a great bunch of guys though, and they've been so helpful as I've navigated these first years in pastoral ministry.  I also have gotten involved in the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina.  We have a group of five of us from Sardis who make up a "balcony team" who have met, along with four other balcony teams, in a community of practice for the last year and a half.  Together each of our teams have been learning all we can about what makes up our churches - history, context, values, theology, etc. - and we've been moving towards figuring out who we really are, who our respective "neighbors" are, and what it is that God might be calling us to.  It's a two-year commitment by each church to work towards transforming and revitalizing their church and ministry.  It's been a great experience and we've met some great people who love the church and are willing to do the hard work so that their church doesn't ultimately die.  It's hard but good work, and out of this process another opportunity has presented itself to become certified as a Missional Transformation Coach.  I'll be starting that process soon, and I'm excited.  It really fits in with my sociology background and interests.

I've also agreed to be the chair of the New Church Development Committee with the presbytery.  I'm excited to be jumping into that with the knowledge I gained in Pittsburgh and I'm eager to learn more about NCD possibilities in our presbytery.  I have a great group of people to work with, and we have some smaller Hispanic plants along with a larger more traditional church plant near Wilmington that's doing really well.  

Hopefully I have a good mix of local and presbytery ministry happening.  We have some outreach activities we do through the church - supplying four local schools with shoes, sweats, and some school supplies; we try to go every couple months to the Beacon Rescue Mission to provide dinner and some encouragement and prayer for the residents; we hope to partner more with the local House of Hope once it opens its doors; and I really hope we can take a group on a short-term mission trip at some point.  Our men's group has done a couple work trips to help with repairs at the local presbytery camp, and I have a seminary friend's youth group coming this summer to do some work at the House of Hope and Beacon.  I love being able to partner with others in ministry!

We're hosting our first Women Gathering in Faith women's retreat next month, and my friend and mentor Ann Been from Colorado will be in NC and has agreed to speak.  I can't wait to see her, and for my friends here to meet her!  Sammy and I will be leading the worship time.

Kim has finals next week and then the rest of the month off.  He's taking a math class in the June term and then will be off until fall.  Sean and Megan are coming for their first visit in June and Alex, Brittaney, and their little baby Blake will make their way up from Florida as well.  With Sammy, Chris, and Sawyer having lived with us since the first of the year, we're gonna have a full house - and we can't wait!!!  July we're hoping to go to Colorado for a couple of weeks to spend good time with the family and enjoy the dry, hot Colorado summer with its blue skies and peaches and chile peppers!  Those are all the things we miss most - people, peaches, and peppers!

Well, that pretty much brings things up to date.  I hope to be better about writing here - not just to update, but to also share more about what I see God doing…  Kim and I are celebrating as the bible reading plan we started when we arrived here - to read the bible in a year together - will be finished in two days, finally.  It's been a solid foundation for us to come together regularly to read scripture and pray together as often as we could.  (As you can see, it hasn't turned out to be daily.)

We are so thankful for how God continues to grow us and use us and reveal to us even more of who He is and His great love for us.  Just when you think you get a handle on it, He blows your mind again.  God is still so very, very good and we are so very, very grateful.

Until next time...