Category Archives: preachers

Bold Enough to Declare It {An Abstraction on Serve}





Last week I wrote about my friend and that conversation–well, when I sat down to write, my intention was to write about listening, and did not know it would go that direction. But that’s what our listening does–it takes us in a direction different from what we expect. It takes us deeper, over, under, and there is really no way of knowing where we will end up next and how we will meet God and this is exciting to me, not because of a feeling, necessarily, but because of a truer knowing about joy and peace. God, out of the box–me, wild and free, and I’m learning He is a very wild God. He won’t be tamed.

God is working His freedom in me, and I don’t know where to start, or to end, and I settle on just staying somewhere in the middle of it all, where Spirit is speaking and shaping.

I step into the shower and try to listen to the Spirit. I had told her, I need to step away, to try to hear God. 

When circumstances are dire, and we don’t know what will happen to our marriage, or what will happen when vices feel they are taking over, or when we feel stuck, we need to hear God. And sometimes our need is rooted in fear. Maybe He’s saying just be still. Listen. Maybe you are here, too.

Maybe there is a vice, maybe there is a stronghold, some bondage in your life you want to be free from? They all look different for each of us. They come in many forms, don’t they? Legalism, bigotry, alcoholism, drug addiction, pain, abuse, chronic illness, a marriage that is falling apart, generational curses, cancer, or maybe we are just on the outside, looking in the stained-glass windows, wondering where the real Christians are. The audacious Jesus-followers, who love black skin, white skin, red skin, yellow skin, who put mud on the eyes of the blind, and revel in them becoming whole, who love the gays and the straights, the outcast and the upper crust. Because yes, even they need God, too, and who are we to tell God’s Spirit how to move?

When He moves, I want to move with Him.

Jesus bent low to wash the feet of those who felt undeserving. I’m starting to believe bending low is what He’s called me to, and to me this means bending over a bathtub when my back is breaking to wash littles’ bodies.

I let the water from the shower-head pour over me, on full-force, hard. It feels like a cleansing, all the cold and the ache of the day slides off, down to the drain.

Some things can’t be said out loud. I wish I could tell you, and in the sister-Mennonite fashion I experienced at a retreat a couple years back, you could say, “We hear your story, sister. We acknowledge your pain, and we celebrate your healing.”

But as I said, some things should not be uttered. Not yet. Maybe not ever? When God moves, I want to move with Him.

But I do know this: We are all human, with real struggles, aren’t we? And we all struggle with pain, and we all struggle with bitterness, and we all struggle to serve. I know I do.

Saturday I go on a bike ride with my daughter to the store, because the van is in the shop, and with my hot pink hoodie covering my head, we ride much further than we plan to, and with the sun on our backs, and the cold slicing at our hands on handlebars, the earth and wind licks our faces and hair. And we are soaring. We sing. She tells me about her favorite song. It’s about worship and bowing, that God is God.

The bag from the store swishes against the tire’s tread, and spokes whir. I think about how close God is. She tells me she doesn’t understand what eternity means in heaven, like why we will spend so long there, forever. Will it be boring? And Mama, you know how the generations just keep going on and on–women have babies, and then those babies have babies, and those babies have babies–and then we just all go to heaven–I don’t get it.

I tell her the only thing I know– Well, we’re here for His glory –to make His glory known in the earth– and it really isn’t about us–it’s about God, y’know? What I forget to tell her, caught up in the burn of quadriceps, is that God wants us to be happy, here, in this moment. I will tell her later–there is time. Mental note.

When you talk about listening and serving, don’t expect God to just let you talk about it. He will want you to act. His Spirit will lure you, He is good at this. And, I am tired of just talking.

So Sunday, I’m standing outside, drinking my morning cup of coffee, stroking my huge, black baby of adult male cat, and I think of my sweet neighbor, who gave him to me, and good things come out of her home. I look up, and see her husband, Mr. Joseph*, standing in the yard. I feel pulled, so I go over. And no, the fact that he is black doesn’t keep me from doing so. They are my friends.

Mr. Joseph* and I, I swear we preach to one another, standing there in the yard, Sunday morning sun beaming down on us, his cigar in hand. He says he accidentally drank too much the night before, and so he isn’t going to church. We talk about a lot of things–how we meet God right where we are, and it’s not necessarily within four walls. I tell him I’m not going to church either, and he isn’t alone.

He tells me how his grandfather was a pastor, and his grandmother always told him and his seven siblings, if you gonna come in late on Saturday night and lay your head on my pillow, you best be ready to get up and go to church on Sunday morning. He tells me that color doesn’t matter–he can get just as much from a white preacher as he can a black one. I tell him I agree.

And did I tell you we are in the deep South–in Mississippi? 

The girls play on the playground on Sunday evening, and there is a raucous, a drumming noise as they run and play–all the children, black and white and Mexican too. But the clamor and chaos is a pleasant, beautiful sound. They don’t fight, don’t run over one another, they don’t bully or chide, or make fun. They are playing a game of tag. And it makes me smile. They all place their hands on home base, to pick the first one to be “It”. All their little chubby hands, so innocent, black and white, intertwined, and I exhale–think how grand would it be if adults did this too?

Yeah, everything in God’s earth speak to me, and listening is teaching me to create an altar to worship right where I am.

I go outside late at night, and walk in the dark, the earth sinking under my feet, water bubbling up in its place, and the trees are bare and stark against a late-night sky with surprisingly mauvy-pink glow. I like to think God has drawn a curtain of prayer over me. Jesus is always interceding. I feel as blanketed and peaceful as a sleeping babe. Yes, He speaks to me here.

I just need to be bold enough to declare it.

                                                             *names changed to protect people in the story

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it– Our prompt is Serve (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is Serve. GO!


**{This link up will run until next Sunday, the 23rd, 11:59 pm., giving you plenty of time to write and link-up before the next concrete words is posted the following day. Sometime between now & then, I will read your stories and highlight one of them from this link-up on social media. On the 24th, the prompt will be Slippers .}


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Of Things Unseen {An Abstraction on the Cup}

I cannot say how pleased I am to have Kelli Woodford, my dear friend, here today to guest-write for Concrete Words. Her quiet, searching heart stirs me deep. I hope her words move you as much as they do me. And please, be sure to show her some lovin’ for her words here. 





The styrofoam is warm in my hands. It imprints on my fingertips, a liquid story of contents unseen. 

Steam rises like prayers, fogging out the world as I draw the cup close, closer to my lips. I inhale the fluid decadence. Wishing I could ingest it just as slowly, as tangibly, as it escapes–wafting upward, upward. Always the scent lingering somewhere on the edges of time. I close my eyes. 

A chair skids loud across the flecked tile floor. It wakes me from my drifting. 

To the left, three men sit at a table set for four. One is slick bald. He looks like a preacher to me. Oh, not a preacher-comb-the-hair-over, wear-a-tie, King-Jimmy-in-hand preacher, but one of these cool guy preachers. The kind that sport those trendy, dark-rimmed glasses and the baldness without looking older than 40. 

I run the top of my middle finger along the rim of my cup. Circling, circling. My coffee is still too hot to drink, but I’ve nothing to do but sit with it and with my imagination. A mind at play among the rising fog. 

Their conversation is too low for me to make out, and I’m glad I don’t hear it. I think I’d rather invent it. Bits and pieces, that’s all we know, I wonder if he’s saying. As a preacher, I have a responsibility to proclaim what I believe, but God help me if I don’t spend just as much time with my hand clapped over my mouth, aghast at what great folly it is to ever speak with absolute certainty about God Almighty. He is not a tame Lion. No, no…

My imagination runs wild with the hope of what it would be to hear a preacher admit his finite understanding of God. To say what he knows as freely and gently as if whispered over a casket–instead of boisterous and aggressive, as if a little too used to the amplification of a microphone and stage lights. To give respect to the Mystery of all that defies explanation, instead of putting Eternity in a systematic box. But I know it’s just my experience talking. He’s leaning forward now, toward the others. Whatever he’s saying, it’s clear that he means it with all his heart. 

Velvet fingers, mine, stir serendipity into the coffee, sugar melting, sweet and silent. 

And I sense an opening. It’s deep in me. 

Something creaks as mercies widen, unseen changes afoot. 

I raise my cup and lock eyes with the dark-rimmed stranger over yawning styrofoam. His lips and mine receive the contents poured into our respective open spaces. The misty prayers that rise with this touch to my face are less selfish somehow, and more generous. I see his nerves. They play the surface of his face like a guitar solo. He doesn’t see me, I know now. He is looking at them, at himself. He feels the weight of this responsibility. For he holds something heavier in his hand than the cup from which he sips. 

And he deserves, not my contempt, but my compassion. It might not be wine of the covenant, but I feel the solidarity of our drink in tandem. I feel the words spoken in my narrowed places, now more open that empathy has done her work:

Take, drink, this is my blood, shed for you … do this in remembrance. 

I whisper back, the echoes of another prayer uttered long ago, 

and the sound ricochets inside my cup, which now runneth over. 

That we may be one, Lord Jesus, 

that we may be one. 



12-12-2013.JPG
ABOUT KELLI WOODFORD
Kelli hopes never to recover from the mighty mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace. 



****************
Gratitude: {1109-1118}…
yellow and purple irises blooming in the yard :: how grown up my 12-year-old is–her intuition and quiet nature that are a gift to me :: my little one lying in bed with me in early morning and nuzzling up against my face with her cheek :: shafts of light across the couch :: beauty of early morning sun :: a cozy blanket and warm coffee :: my bible :: the comforting sound of clean, running water :: the cute sneezes of a certain 3-year-old

{This post shared with Ann, Laura, and Michelle} 

*************

***Dear readers, I had a conversation with the ever-sweet Amber Haines, and her handing over Concrete Words to me is meant to be a permanent deal. sixinthesticks will now be it’s home for good. Amber has said she can no longer do it on her blog. She has asked me to take it and run with it, change it up, make it my own. I hope those of you who have been with Amber the whole time will be along for this wild, fun ride! I’ve never had so much fun with writing!! 
     
**************


What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.

A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising, or
                                             sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is the Cup

**Starting next week, Concrete Words will be going live every Sunday evening, sometime between 7 and 10 pm. I cannot promise an exact time, as my weekends are very spontaneous and I’m a little bit of a roving rebel.
The prompt next week is the Afternoon.{I’ll highlight a beautiful post on Friday (and announce it on social media), so come back here to see whose post is highlighted and encourage them!}