“Thank you”

I grew up ending each day on my knees praying for my uncles who were serving in the Vietnam War. Their names were mentioned at meal times. We spoke of them throughout the days. POW bracelets were given to my older cousins at Christmas. Joyful reunions between tours; tears when they departed once again. They all came home, and nearly all died early deaths related to the experiences and sacrifices they made while serving in the military.

Last week I had the honor of being with a group of veterans who gathered at Franklin First United Methodist Church. Dr. Fred Kimbrell, a retired army surgeon, convened the group for fellowship and a program called QPR: Question.Persuade.Refer. It is a suicide prevention class. My joy was teaching. Of course, they taught me far more than I taught them!

I was amazed at the willingness of this group to learn how they can help prevent death by suicide. Their desire to be equipped to help someone who is struggling was inspiring. And yet, it should not be a surprise. These are men and women who step into some of the hardest places of life and serve in whatever way is needed. They do not “outgrow” their commitment to help and serve. It is who they are and the way they live in this world. They serve on our behalf in the military; they serve with us in civilian life.

Words don’t always come easy, and gratitude has many expressions. However we are able to say, “thank you” to our veterans today, let’s do it. Let’s not wait; do not let this day go by unnoticed.

Veterans attend QPR class at Franklin First UMC. November 2022

Holy God, we know that nothing is hidden from your sight, and nothing we ever do diminishes the love you offer us. The men and women who serve on our behalf have sacrificed in ways we will never know. In times of war and peace, they give themselves in service for our country. The stories they hold within their hearts and minds are known by you. You hold the deepest wounds and the greatest triumphs with the same love. We humbly and boldly ask that you bless our veterans with healing, peace, and grace. Give them strength when it is needed, humility in moments where it is warranted, and wisdom to guide each and every step. Guard them with the shield of faith that only your Spirit can provide. We give thanks for each of them. For their lives, their service, their families, and their sacrifices. By your grace, Creator God, please lead us all into a world of peace where the call for war is no more. Amen.

Would you like to know more about suicide prevention? In our community we are teaching QPR: Question, Persuade. Refer. This short certification class will equip you to recognize and respond when someone is struggling and at risk for death by suicide. Like CPR for situations of cardiac arrest, QPR saves lives and we are committed to doing what we can to equip our community to respond. Follow this link to be informed about upcoming classes. Or comment on this post and I’ll follow up with you to help you find a class.
https://findhopefranklin.com/qpr/

Find Hope Franklin is committed to bring hope and help to neighbors with mental health needs. Suicide prevention is one of our Mayor’s intentional efforts to reduce the stigma and provide help. Whether you are looking for a resource for yourself or someone else, Find Hope Franklin is a source created for you! https://findhopefranklin.com

Joy!

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all of my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. – Psalm 28:7

I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe an extra hour of sleep or time to walk Oreo before the sun was bright. Perhaps it was simply the cooler morning air beckoning me outside. Or maybe someone’s prayer whispered in the dark. Whatever happened – I woke up with joy. Even a sense of relief.

And not only joy, I woke up with songs! Songs of gratitude. Songs I could not fully explain. I remember riding with my grandfather Lester on the country roads of Western Kentucky when I was very young. It was a rare occurrence. Usually when Grandma was out of pocket for some reason and I had the gift of time with him. We were always going to check on a field or livestock, pick up seed or grain; working.

He would make up songs and sing them as we drove down the road. They seemed like songs of joy to me. He didn’t have a singer’s voice particularly, so he wasn’t singing to hear himself. But he sure did love to sing as we drove down the road. I was mesmerized.

It was as if a song was in his heart and he just had to let it out. They were songs about whatever was going on in life. And silly songs. A lot of silly songs! Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised if his way is somehow being cultivated in me.

In my kitchen cabinet there is a shelf full of random coffee cups. You know…those cups you receive as gifts or pick up somewhere along the way. Every morning when I open it up I have this little decision to make of what coffee cup “feels right” today.

With a song in my heart and on my lips; with gratitude for God’s kindness and presence; with love that often cannot be contained, I reached into that cabinet and grabbed this cup…

What is the song in your heart today? Whether lament or gratitude; praise or love you can’t contain…it’s always good to sing! And by all means, cherish today; it is a gift and will not come again.

May God’s peace be in you today. May you sense how deeply you are loved by your Creator. May the grace of Christ surprise you with a song that rises within you and offers you joy. Cherish today.

Before I Begin

Before I begin – You have created
Before I brush my teeth – You have established the day
I watch your sun rise
It changes every moment
The beauty is too great for me to capture
You are creating, moving, establishing
I stand in wonder.

Forgive me when I begin the day
with dread or fear or arrogance
instead of gratitude and awe.
Thank you for the sun rise that reminds me:
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being
“.

Forgive us when we enter life’s moments
with condemnation, pointing fingers
at our neighbors; many of whom we
do not know, and judging those we do.
Forgive us when we want so much to
be on the side of whatever is “right”
that we have no more space
to love. Or learn. Or listen for
what you may be saying.

Your sunrise reminds me how quickly
you create and establish new things.
Every second of every moment
moving mountains, changing minds
bringing spirit, removing idols
crumbling, building, shedding,
breaking, healing,
restoring, transforming….
And we
stand
in awe
of You.

Help us position ourselves for
humble following
however and wherever you lead
today.
We love you, Lord.
We trust you, Christ.
Thank you for not giving up
on us.
We welcome your new day! Amen.

Vona Rose Wilson
(reference John 1:3)

The Blessings

The crowd must have been intrigued when Jesus started speaking words of blessing. Many of them had come to know of a God that is all condemning.  Grace and mercy were in short supply in the 1st century. Rhetoric and false proclamations were rampant.  Fear, greed, and the need to be in “control”, were everywhere.  

In the middle of great tension and chaos – Jesus, the Messiah, shows up with a different message. He, himself, shows up with an attitude and countenance that people have not seen or experienced.  Jesus shows up with good news for many who are ready and in need of good news. The Christ comes to offer truth: 

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

– Matthew 5:3-11

These blessings are still true today. Where mercy is given, mercy will be received. The hunger and thirst for holiness, will be filled. Where grief is heavy and raw, the Lord will bring comfort in just the way it is needed. When a person comes with peace among you, they are present as a child of God. Even when insults and falseness are spread about those following Christ, these words are no hindrance to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  

Where do you find yourself today? As one in need of a blessing, or one who is equipped to offer it to someone else? Perhaps both; or maybe to simply remember these words that Jesus wanted the people to hear.  Words of truth and blessing that Christ wants us to hear again today. 

Lord, we forget how different your ways are in our world. The other voices around us are so loud! Thank you for speaking into our lives with truth that brings peace. Thank you for reminding us of how you bring grace and justice; it is so different from the ways we expect it to come. Today, where there is need of blessing, please bring it with abundance.  Enter into those crevices and corners of our pain and despair; make yourself known to the brokenhearted.  And Father, where you have equipped us to be an avenue of your blessing, we surrender ourselves into your hands for that purpose and for your glory. We love you Lord, and we trust you completely. Thank you for the blessings that Jesus continues to offer our lives. Amen. 

Monday Beginnings

Sunrise and sunset
Your rhythms offered for all
every morning, every evening
without fail.

Breathe in and out
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell
every day, every night
without fail.

As long as we are here
we are still together
every moment, every hour
without fail.

Attentive to work or rest
laughing or crying
Your words remain faithful
without fail.

Celebrations and sorrows
Ordinary and miraculous
Life here and there; profound gifts
without fail.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made
    and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
    he put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him,
for he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

– Psalm 33:6-9


God, as we embark on our Monday beginnings, we welcome your assistance and presence. Let our steps be ordered by your Spirit even when we are unaware. Where work is started, let it bring good to our lives…the “good” that honors the life you give us today. Where rest is embraced, may it bring peace. When tears of sorrow or joy need release today, let them flow like fountains; watering our souls and reminding us how wonderfully you’ve created the world. Every beginning is an offering from you. We are grateful; we receive. Thank you for loving us. We need you, Lord, and we trust you completely. Amen.

Weekend in Memphis: A Reflection

Central Station is just three minutes away from the Lorraine Hotel and the National Civil Rights Museum. I’m as close as I can be right now.  The music of this city is pouring out of every speaker I pass by; it’s rolling out of the entrance of my room and flowing through the gathering spaces. Music washes over you…over me; it begs me pause…just let it flow over me like water. Let it soak, inspire, remind me…and speak in the remembering. 

I came to Memphis on “business” but I’ve stayed by necessity of heart.  My friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Autura Eason-Williams, was murdered here in Memphis on July 18, 2022. She was not “mine” per se – she was all of ours. We loved her. We appreciated her. We were inspired by her courageous leadership and certain call. Her husband and children were encouraged and bolstered by her love every day. I’m in her “district”; I’m in her city. 

Someone else was murdered the morning of my arrival. A runner. A mother, a wife, a teacher, a woman. Eliza Fletcher. I did not know her, but her disappearance changed my weekend. The tenseness in my body increased. I altered the plans I had for walking. When a man pulled up, rolled down his window and hollered at me as I walked down the street, “hey pretty lady what are you doing?”, I wanted to scream. I kept my cool and kept on walking. He drove on and I turned around for yet another route. I hate not feeling “safe”.

The museum walks me through history as I read through and get a taste of someone else’s experience. Someone I didn’t know, though I read some of his writing and particularly his letter to his pastor colleagues; written from the Birmingham jail. I am moved by the history I’m walking through but I am undone by the sobbing of the young man who is next to me. He must have been 11 or 12 years old. An older woman was with him; a grandmother, perhaps. She doesn’t try to stop him from crying, but she’s right by his side as he takes in this part of our history.

Something catches my eye: “Don’t stop now. Keep moving. Don’t get weary. We will wear them down with our capacity to suffer.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing a rally at Shiloh Baptist Church December 15, 1961. It’s “the capacity to suffer” that won’t leave my spirit. So many people have gone before us that had the “capacity to suffer”. I do wonder…do we have that capacity now?

Memphis is not a city of murder and violence. There is more. Music is here. Amazing blues music. Rock n Roll. Country. Incredible scores of musicians found their deep rhythms in this city. I walked over to the Arcade and got a window seat looking out at South Main Street. The lady sitting next to me has a story. She’s going to tell me a little, but not much. Memphis is “home” for her. I explain that I’m not from here; I came to town to officiate a funeral, but I stayed to take in the museum and a bit of culture. I stayed to remember my friend. She tells me she’s “sorry for my loss”, but I tell her how it’s OK, because I’m a pastor and this is what we do; we do funerals. We want to honor and celebrate people’s lives. We think it’s important.

The Arcade: The Oldest Cafe in Memphis; Established 1919

She has generational connections to the Arcade. We cover a lot of conversational ground in a few short minutes. It occurs to me as we sit and chat in what is the “oldest Café in Memphis”, that Reggie surely ate here many times. And maybe Elvis and surely Aretha Franklin.  It also occurs to me that the woman I’m talking to in this moment is just as important as all of them. For all I know, which is very little, she is probably famous herself. The chances that I would recognize her are slim to none, unless she belts out a song I know. She kind of looked famous, but doesn’t everyone? 
https://arcaderestaurant.com/history/

As she gets up to leave, she looks at me and says, “you said you are a pastor; you are a pastor; right?” And I said, “yes; I am”. She said, “I’ve been needing to talk to a pastor but not a pastor from Memphis. I’m really glad I got to talk to you today.”

Of course, I was glad too; to have a true “local” to chat with and laugh a little; share a bit of history; say some things you might only say to a stranger.  Of all the things we talked about (and I met her son in the middle of it all), I don’t know what one thing she needed to say to a pastor, whether it was “content” or just the experience she was seeking.  Whatever we both needed, we seemed to get it sitting at the window seat looking out at South Main. Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tennessee.

“In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, LORD,
make me dwell in safety.”
– Psalm 4:8

God, please be near to anyone who needs to feel “safe” right now. We love you and we trust you completely. Amen.

If you don’t know Reggie, you’ve missed something that will bless your life. Start here and just keep listening. Peace.

Reggie Young – Memphis Grease

Monday Joy

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
– Lamentations 3:22-26

I often think of how gracious God was in giving us something new every morning. The new expression of sunrise, while the rhythm remains steadfast. The new song of the birds, though the familiar melodies. The new breath in our lungs and the new beats of our hearts…that have never before been expressed!

Every moment of every day is an unfolding of something new God is creating. While that “new” is being discovered and lived one hour at a time, there is also a steadfast presence that does not change. The love and grace of God is always available and ready to be offered. The peace that only God can give, is accessible in the humble asking.

However we come into this Monday, God is right here with us. On game or not; feeling it or not; scared to death or celebrating your greatest accomplishments…the presence of the Creator is standing at your side. Listen for that voice as you walk through this week. It is far beyond the opinions and noise that swirls around with hope of distracting us from God’s wisdom that comes in the pause. Listen.

God, this morning we pause to reconnect and remember your presence and faithfulness. We embrace the mercies you give for this day. We give thanks for the compassion and love you hold; ready to come quickly and abundantly as we seek. It is our desire to honor you with the gift of life you have provided today. Help us, Holy Spirit, to do it well. We welcome your JOY into our lives. We love you, LORD, and we trust you completely. Amen.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. – Jesus in the Gospel of John 15:11

Moments of Integrity

May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evil doers come evil deeds, so my hand will not touch you.’”  (David’s words to Saul; I Samuel 24:12-13)

It’s a moment. Saul is pursuing David. He is extremely angry, and his intent is to kill him. David and his small group of men are deep inside a cave when Saul’s army, not knowing David is in there, makes a bathroom stop. David has the perfect chance to kill Saul, or even just take him captive. But he doesn’t. 

He chooses not to do it because he trusts the LORD to be the one who brings justice, and he wants to honor the Lord’s appointed king.  David trusts God more than he trusts his own desires. He trusts God’s timing more than he trusts his own. He knows that one dishonorable or destructive deed just leads to another and another. There is no end to the cycle of evil and violence. He chooses something different in this moment. 

I’ve been reading David and Saul’s story over the past few days.  It is such an incredible story of our humanness and God’s faithfulness. This link takes you to I Samuel 24 for this moment between David and Saul:  https://bit.ly/DavidandSaul  This story strikes me as something that is instructive for us and perhaps a needed word. 

Emotional intelligence teaches us that pausing before reacting allows us the moments to respond in ways that do not perpetuate destruction, cruelty, or falseness. Jesus taught things like pray for your enemies  (Matthew 5:43-48) https://bit.ly/prayforenemies ; and don’t get burdened down with worrying (Matthew 6:27) https://bit.ly/3bVTPvO ; and that we have the ability to observe the actions of falseness or destruction (Matthew 7: 15-19) https://bit.ly/3C36s2P .

How do we remember these teachings in the moment of need?  Well, perhaps a pause gives us enough seconds to choose our response and to consider, as David did in this situation, a better way. The three chapters of Matthew 5-7 are worth our reading and taking to heart as often as we are willing. 

When I read these teachings and stories like David’s, I am reminded of how amazing God is to love us. We are our full human selves, and God continues to shape and restore us into his image. Our brokenness meets God’s healing. Our thwarted thinking is realigned with the mind of Christ. We make different choices. We choose avenues of peace. We love one another in ways that show the world more of the God we worship.  Little moments of integrity. One breath and one response at a time.  

God, thank you for understanding our humanness and brokenness. I know there are so many times I’ve disappointed you. I’ve been weak and allowed circumstances to propel me even though I know your Holy Spirit is so faithful to guide when I pause to hear you.  Our dysfunctions are real, Lord, but your healing does restore us. Your healing gives us the gift of choosing differently. Thank you for any moments we honor you with those choices.
God, please take the hard places in our hearts and minds; create open spaces for us to heal. Your redemption and restoration of our lives is amazing to experience, and we all need you. Please keep doing it more and more. Thank you for leading us to higher ground as we begin this week. It is our desire to honor you with our lives. We love you, Lord, and we trust you completely. Amen.

Friends, be encouraged! God sees you and hears you; you are not alone!

Resuscitation

There was no 911 system in place. No professional EMS response unit to summons. So, this is how Paul responded when a young man fell to his death while Paul was preaching. 

Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. – Acts 20:9-11

I always laugh when I read the story of Eutychus falling out of the window. I’ve been in that precarious situation of falling asleep during a talk that lasted too long! Maybe you have as well. 

There are other stories of resuscitation in the Scriptures. Both prophets, Elijah and Elisha, whose stories are written in I and II Kings, responded in situations where the breath of life had ceased. You can read the accounts here:   https://bit.ly/3yKT3cx

As a former Paramedic, I read these stories with intrigue and wonder. In one of our 1990’s  textbooks, Pediatric Advanced Cardiac Life Support (PALS), the quote in the opening cover page included a verse from Elijah’s story of resuscitating a young boy! He is staying at the home of a widow and her son dies. Elijah is distraught, especially since this woman has offered her home and hospitality to him when he needed a place to be.  Elijah responded out of his angst and care, but also with God’s healing power: 

Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” – I Kings 17:21

These stories of physical resuscitation are real accounts of God working through people who have placed themselves in the service of the Lord. These miracles helped everyone (prophets included!)  to experience God’s faithfulness. 

What came to mind as I read the story of Eutychus today, was not about physically falling into sleep or ceasing to breathe. What came to mind was the resuscitation that so often comes, just as miraculously, at the presence of someone else.  

It takes human beings to perform CPR to resuscitate someone whose lungs have ceased to breathe, and heart has stopped its beating. And it often takes human beings to ignite the flame of our spirits when the spark is low or, perhaps, even gone. Albert Schweitzer framed it well: 

At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. – Albert Schweitzer 

Schweitzer’s quote has been meaningful to me for many years. Particular people come to mind that have offered that spark in my life, often without knowing it, and even more often – when I didn’t even know how much I needed it.

Who rekindled you by offering that spark?  Take a moment now to thank God for their presence in your life and ask the Lord to give them the blessing they may need today.  It was God who gave Paul and Elijah and Elisha the healing needed in the situations they faced, and it is God who gives us the spark to share with someone else. Your prayer has power because God is faithful. Prayer is answered in surprising and miraculous ways. We never have to know how or why; we are just faithful to pray. 

Lord, we are intrigued by the way you empower us to restore life to one another. Human to human, at your careful guiding. It comes in so many ways we often don’t recognize it. Thank you for the people you place in our paths when we need a spark to rekindle the flame. Nudge us when we are the ones to share that gift with someone else. Please bless those who need a refreshing breath for life today; may it be provided in just the way it is needed. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen. 

Dance at Sunset

After so many days of heat, the rain was all blessing. I watched the steam rising up from the pavement, it was as if the whole of creation was sighing with relief. The grass and trees must have been shouting “thank you” as water dripped from their dry, exhausted foliage.

Tonight the sunset seemed to announce the joy we feel. I will not attempt to add to its beauty with words. I offer glimpses and a prayer. Whether it is for tonight or the morning coming, may our confidence in our Creator be strengthened. May our joy be ever present.

Lord, we see your creativity in the ordinary rhythms of nature and we are overwhelmed with your beauty. The skies dance at your hand! The sunset follows its path, a practice set in place by You that unfolds every day. Nothing is out of place. And yet, every setting of the sun is for that moment in history; it will never occur again in exactly this way. You, LORD, amaze us!
Help us to trust you with our days. Allow us the gift of witnessing your presence in our lives and in our world. Please continue the redeeming work of equipping and maturing us for your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are in awe of you, Lord, and we are grateful.
Please grant peace to those who sleep; and inspiration to those waking. We welcome you into the spaces of this night that leave us wanting. We welcome your joy as the morning breaks fully open. You, Lord, are the only One who holds this night. You are the only One who holds the dawning of a new day. Help us to honor you by living it fully, with gratitude and joy. We trust you, Father, and we love you. Thank you for the gift of this dance. Amen.