Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans…

I read that quote from John Lennon somewhere a number of years ago, and it has really begun to resonate with me. “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans…”

When we are young, we think that we can plan our future and it will unfold pretty much as we imagine it will. Sure, there may be a few glitches along the way, but basically we know what to expect.

Wrong!

I had no plans to spend 30+ years living with a chronic illness…one that sometimes has severely restricted my ability to do what I want, and yet at other times leaves me feeling almost as though it doesn’t exist.

I certainly never imagined that I would spend much of my life following different career paths…teacher (high school and college)…musician…stay-at-home mother…minister…editor…web editor…worship and music specialist… And yet, each of those positions has enriched my life and has made it possible for me to gain new skills and follow new possibilities.

Nor would I have expected that after many years of marriage, I would have discovered that my husband had spent much of his life hiding from himself. When he came out to me as a bisexual–one who had been faithful to me, but who could no longer hide from either of us that he also finds men attractive–that was certainly never in the plans that I had made!

But if we are able to flow with what happens to our life plans–to the changes that happen to our best-laid plans–then life can become freer and more exciting. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make plans–far from it! We need plans to give us goals to reach and roads to begin to travel. But we can’t set those plans in concrete and expect them to unfold predictably. It just isn’t going to happen!

Make plans…but let God (or however you describe the power that exists in the universe) breathe life into them. Let life happen!!

Merry Christmas!

Just a couple of thoughts on this special day:

To catch the real meaning of the “Spirit of Christmas,” we need only to drop the last syllable of the word, and it becomes the “Spirit of Christ.” It beckons us to follow him, and become worthy of the blessedness which he promised to the most unlikely people—the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the meek, the seekers after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and even the persecuted and the oppressed.

—Hugh B. Brown

Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years… Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.”

—George Matthew Adams (The Christmas Heart)

May you be blessed with peace and love this day and in the coming year.

Another Advent service…

Tonight I attended another Advent service. This one was not as polished as the one the week before…but it was every bit as powerful. In some ways, maybe more so–because it wasn’t “traditional.”

It was planned by a group of young adults, and it was titled “Christmas Re-Imagined.” It used drama and contemporary songs to tell the Christmas story as it was re-imagined through the mind/memory of a young man, visiting his aging father and responding to the father’s wish for a Christmas story, even though the son had left it behind in many ways years ago. And so he told it…in a way that was meaningful to him.

I sometimes think that we tend to sanitize the story. It’s safe to do that, because–after all–it happened 2000 years ago.

 But what if it happened today? Who would be the angel reassuring Joseph that he should go ahead and marry Mary…that everything would be okay? that love is the most important thing when you boil the essence of everything down to what’s essential? Would it be a homeless man that he ran across–and gave everything he had to (as it was in the drama)?

Where would be the stable? the Mariott laundry room?

Who would be the shepherds? reporters for a gossip magazine?

And what would our reaction be? Would we see that there was something significant about this birth? Do we see that there’s something significant about every birth? That–as the speaker said–every birth is God’s “yes” to our “no”? that Christmas is a love story…of God’s never-ending love for each one?

Every Christmas we need to re-imagine the story…to make it connect with us…to make Christmas–the true meaning of Christmas–not something that happened 2000 years ago, but something that happens every year. Christ comes anew…will we recognize him?

365 Thank-yous

While I was at the dentist earlier this week, I saw a story on “Good Morning, America” that really intrigued me. I hadn’t heard of him before, but apparently John Kralik has a book out called 365 Thank Youshis story of how his life changed over the course of a year as he intentionally wrote a thank-you to someone every day of the year.

Although I couldn’t hear everything he said, the thought intrigued me.

What would happen if I intentionally said “thank you” to someone every day this next year? Not just say it…but write–hand write–a brief note to them?

Kralik’s life apparently was in a mess when he started the project. He began it to see if he could change his focus. He did…and his life changed. That’s very similar to what my spiritual advisor had me do a few years ago when I was going through a really rough time at work–to find three things per day that were positive. Occasionally it was easy; often, though, I had to subdivide one thing in order to find three.

But I keep coming back to this question…what would happen? And could I think of enough people to thank? Kralik acknowledged that that might be a challenge–but that when that happened to him, he began to look closer, thanking the people whom he bought coffee from. So who are the “little people” that I take for granted?

I’m thinking that this is going to be a major project for next year for me… Not because of anything I can get out of it, but because of what it can give. I know that at times those notes have saved me…now it’s time to pass it on.

Who’s willing to join me? One note at a time…can we change our world?

Separation….or inclusion?

I recently attended an Advent service–one that I thoroughly enjoyed. Lots of beautiful music…and an intriguing and well-presented message.

But in the days since (and growing out of some discussion about the service), I’ve begun to wonder. Do our services–Advent or otherwise) draw us closer together? or separate us even more?

I don’t have little children at home any more. But if I did, there was not much in that service that would have been appealing to them. It was a service designed for those who can sit quietly for an extended period of time. The carols were not necessarily familiar to children–and the stage setting didn’t offer anything to keep their attention. Nor was the service advertised as being “family-friendly.”

I have computer access, and so I could have watched it at home. But many people do not–and so they were excluded from sharing this experience as well. I don’t want to negate the value of the streaming, however, because I know there were many who were able to feel connected because of that experience.

My hearing is good; I could enjoy hearing the beautiful music and the words of the message. But what about those whose hearing is not good? What did we have in the service for them? Words of the congregational parts of the carols were in the bulletin–but not the words of the verses that the choir sang. The words/translations of the choir pieces were available in the bulletin, and that was good. The scripture citations were in the bulletin–but not the specific versions that were shared. The text of the message will hopefully be available online soon–but the hearing-impaired who were watching were not able to follow along at the time to know what was being shared.

And everything was in English. Again, not a problem for me…but what about those who would like to have been a part of the service, but for whom English is not the primary language (or even one of their languages)?

Sometimes, because I am part of a dominant majority, I fail to think about these aspects and how they separate us rather than draw us together. I know that despite our best intentions, we will still have some of these issues, but I hope that in our service planning–whether it’s on the congregational level or for a larger group–we will learn to keep these in mind and do everything in our power to create services that include all.

“Who do YOU say that I am?”

In the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 16), Jesus–in one of his discussions with his disciples–asked them a simple question. “Who do people say that I am?” That was easy to answer. “Some think you’re John the Baptist…or Elijah…or this or that prophet…”

They might have thought that was all there was to it. But then came the challenge. “Who do YOU say that I am?”

I think they must have all fallen quiet then. Who was this man they’d been spending so much time with? Was he a prophet? something more? How were they supposed to answer that question?

A lot of times we focus on the one answer that’s recorded. While I believe it’s an important one, I think the question is perhaps more important, because it’s a question that each one of us has to answer for ourselves.

It doesn’t take much looking around to see that there are lots of different answers:

  • a loving parent
  • a kind of namby-pamby peace-loving beatnik
  • a vengeful judge
  • a prophet who called people back to God
  • Son of God
  • Lots more possibilities…you can choose the one(s) you want

Some of them make sense to me…a lot don’t. But that’s okay. What’s important is that I have to answer the question. Who do I say that this Jesus is?

My response to that question impacts everything else in my life. It’s the foundation on which everything is built–how I respond to difficult times…how I treat other people…everything.

So…who do I say that he is?

I believe that he was God in the flesh, come to draw us in to a closer relationship and to show us the way to relate to God and each other. I believe he was a literal person–somehow, in ways that I don’t completely understand, both human and divine. While he was killed, I also believe that he lived again–and continues to live, walking with us and guiding us (and sometimes pulling us) into a life that is focused on right relationships with all of creation. He, as part of the Trinity that helps me understand God, was–and is–one that I can give my heart fully to in worship

Who do you say that he is?

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor….

Does anybody remember that children’s nursery rhyme? There are a number of variations on it, but the one I remember goes like this:

Tinker, tailor,
soldier, sailor,
rich man, poor man,
beggar man, thief.

I think I’m probably dating myself by saying that I really didn’t see anything wrong with seeing it as possibly including my future…I don’t remember one that was focused on girls’ choices.

What made me think of it today was some time I spent with my spiritual advisor/friend and some of the issues we discussed. I’m feeling led (pushed?) in several possible directions, and I keep trying to decide which one is “right”…and trying to make my path of life conform to the way I think it ought to go. But a thought that kept coming up during our time was “Quit trying so hard!” It wasn’t just “Quit trying so hard…”–it definitely had an exclamation point at the end.

And so perhaps I need to just relax and let the path lead where it goes–accepting the people that I come into contact with and giving (and receiving) the ministry that comes through those contacts rather than trying to force life into some predetermined mode.

There were several career choices I thought about as a child–nurse and teacher were the primary ones. (Does that date me again??) There were a couple others that hung around in the back of my mind–musician and writer and/or editor. But those weren’t “practical.” And I certainly had no thoughts at all about being a minister!

But life happens…and I think that God has a sense of humor.

  • Nurse as a career went out the window pretty quickly, because I don’t like needles and I don’t do well with the sight of blood. But…I’ve been a hospital chaplain, and I’ve dealt with a chronic illness that has required a number of IV sticks through the years.
  • Teaching definitely happened, but again not as I expected. While I began teaching English in public school, I wasn’t mature enough or sure of myself enough to do that very long. But I’ve done a lot of teaching in later years–both at a community college, teaching music, and as a teacher of adult education courses in my church.
  • Musician happened in kind of a circuitious route. I’d played for church since I was 8–but somehow that didn’t feel like being a “musician.” But I’ve now been on the organ staff at Community of Christ International Headquarters for 42 years–playing recitals, giving demonstrations, and doing service playing for major activities there through the years. So yes….I’d have to say that I’m a musician.
  • Writing was definitely not something that I could make a living at (according to practical logic). But it wouldn’t go away. So I’ve continued to write poetry, monologues, stories, educational courses… And I’ve served as an editor for my church as well.
  • Minister has been a fulfilling part of my more recent years. When my denomination opened up ordination to women in 1984, all of a sudden I had to come to terms with the possibility that that might be an option. Up to that point, it had been easy to fob God off, because it just wasn’t going to happen in my denomination–and I definitely wasn’t feeling called anywhere else. But when I was called and ordained as an elder, a lot of new opportunities opened up–new avenues of ministry that I’d never dreamed about.

So now, I think I may be on the cusp of something else new…although I’m not sure what. But I’m sure that whatever it is, as long as I “quite trying so hard” and let God lead the way, life will continue to be an adventure!