Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184 and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!


Not *That* Way

I’ve previously written about hearing the news that our Division at work was potentially going to offer early retirement, and how almost immediately I felt pricked by that–“You paying attention now?”

I learned this week that while that is true, my boss has made the ruling that no one on her staff will be offered early retirement (because then she’ll lose the position and can’t replace us).

OK, so I’m a little disappointed and perplexed. I really thought I was supposed to pay attention to that. And so while I did think at the time the likelihood of actually being offered early-out was slim, I did feel it was a nudge.

So quite clearly now, that door is closed to me. And we all know what that means: God’s opened another one, and is standing next to it patiently tapping his foot, waiting for me to get around to noticing it. In all likelihood, it won’t be as grand a door, or as easy an exit as early retirement would have been. But maybe that’ll be the point. I just don’t know.

Give me a revelation, show me what to do
Cause I’ve been trying to find my way, I haven’t got a clue
Tell me should I stay here, or do I need to move
Give me a revelation, I’ve got nothing without You

–Third Day, Revelation

Well That Was Different…Gulp!

I had a slightly different set of experiences Saturday night. Pastor Don had invited me to preach in his place at the Saturday night service, since he was going to be at a conference in Charlottesville that day and not getting back in time. Sure, I can do that. It was supposed to be bowling night, but hey, I can get there late. Then our teammate Ken announced he would be travelling this weekend and could we pre-bowl. God was starting to move things out of the way for this night. Little did I know why.

Whenever in the past I’ve been asked to take part of a weekend, I’ve always picked my own scripture and theme: I’ve never tried to work off the same as the pastor has for the rest of the services on a weekend. But this time, I tried doing just that, because it was the concluding sermon on a series he’d been doing on “renewal.” It didn’t feel right to have had the Saturday night service attendees get four out of the five topics covered, and then just leave them hanging on the last night.

So I checked out the scripture, Matthew 18–the whole chapter–and was floored. It’s just so rich, so full of things to preach on–hey, Don, where were you going with this? He explained that he was preaching on the Kingdom of God and how it’s already present with us…didn’t really say much more. So I went off and came up with a sermon to try to follow that headline lead. I was working on my usual path, of coming up with rough notes and lines to take that would be the basis for my text, when I kept getting a nudge. “Just go with an outline. Don’t write it all out.” Gulp. OK, I’ll try.

Saturday came and by midafternoon the promised “wintry mix” was materializing. Sleet, snow, rain, we had it all…I kept waiting for the message from the school district that they were closing campuses for the night: since the church follows the school’s lead, we would then be cancelling services. But no message came, and so off I went.

You can imagine my surprise to see Pastor Don was there when I walked in! The weather had cancelled his conference, he explained. But he came out to hear me preach–wouldn’t hear of taking it back. Gulp, take two. I’ve had the luxury of preaching without a professional present for years…and one whose topic I was trying to work off of, who has the “textbook answer” already ready to go for tomorrow morning! Gulp, again! To add to the nerves, my Emmaus brother Charley and his wife–one of Mary’s Emmaus sisters, Kathy–decided to come check me out. Gulp, once more!

In the end, I did pretty decently. Not the best I’ve ever done, but also not the weakest. The technique of just using major outline headings worked pretty well: I can’t think of something I missed saying as a result.

But all the more, Charley and Kathy were very complimentary, and I had someone else ask the regular question on her way out the door (“Are you going into ministry?” To which for the first time I equivocated: “It’s not an immediate plan…”). But the report card from Pastor Don was all smiles. “You’re a preacher,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”


Reassuring Dreams

Do you dream?

Well, maybe that’s the wrong question; after all, we all dream. But do you remember your dreams when you wake up?

I rarely do. Most mornings I have no recollection of any dream; at most I might have a vague sense of having dreamed…something? And it was…anxious? Pleasant? But not much more comes to mind.

Our daughter has been struggling with anxiety over all she has to do if she’s to finish high school a year early this year, as is her plan. (Or should I say, her dream?) It’s been hard for us as parents to watch her struggle, wanting to take it all away and make it all better the way we used to be able to do for her when she was tiny. In some of my own darker moods I fear her dreams of going off to college won’t come to pass, at least not now.

The other morning, I woke and was immediately aware of a dream I’d had in the night. In it, I was watching as from a drone as a Saturn V rocket–the ones the old Apollo program used to go to the moon, still the most powerful rockets we’ve ever made–slowly came to life and began, majestically, rising on a pillar of fire past me and towards the heavens. And somehow in my dream I was aware that my daughter was on that rocket, and I remember I felt relieved that it had launched and that it was flying the way it was designed to fly.

On reflecting on it when I awoke, I chose to interpret that as a reassurance from God: there won’t be a “failure to launch” here, he said. She’s gonna be OK. I got this, he conveyed to me.

Fly, young lady, fly!

Breadcrumbs, Part III

Much to his annoyance, a thought popped into his mind. It was very clear and very distinct, and he had now come to recognize these thoughts for what they were. His instinct was to resist them. (Douglas Adams)

Since September, I’ve been sharing some of the walk I’ve been on, trying to grow my discernment skills. I am in little doubt that I am being called into a deeper relationship with Christ; what I’m still struggling with is, what, exactly, is that supposed to look like? I’ve been doing a lot of reading and conversing on the topic, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In no particular order:

  • Absolutely, every one of us has a calling. We are all called to do some work to the glory of God. Some are called to be budget analysts, some are called to be nonprofit execs…and some are called into ordained ministry. None is “better” or “higher” than another. And they may not be permanent: it’s where God is calling us to be now. The key thing is to discern what it is, and then to respond.
  • Yes, we are all called to a deeper relationship with Christ. Some of the keys for whether a calling is to an ordained role, versus a more-committed lay member, are the extent to which people turn to you for spiritual guidance, or look to you to be a leader in spiritual matters.
  • It isn’t just about a given skill set. Sure, I can string words together and speak the English goodly. But as Paul wrote, “I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but [if I] didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Yes, I can ride a bike: it doesn’t mean I should become a pro cyclist and enter the Tour de France.
  • Sometimes what’s obscure to us is brilliantly, painfully obvious to others around us.
  • I still struggle with what Walter F. Kerr called “delusions of adequacy.” Or, as the inimitable Zaphod Beeblebrox put it, “Hey, I’m just this guy, y’know?” Why should it be that the God of all Creation would be asking me to do anything special?
  • Sometimes the answer is just as simple as, “when you can’t do anything else, preach.” In other words, when your thoughts are nothing but about bringing about the Kingdom…

Another Gibbs-Slap

I’ve written before about how sometimes the Spirit has to flick me behind the ear, or Gibbs-slap me, or use a two-by-four, or otherwise get my attention, because hey, I’m not always the quickest on the up-take. Had another one of those experiences recently.

I think it was a couple of Fridays ago; I walked into Michelle’s office to visit, and plopped down in a chair. She started telling me that since one of our offices will be involved in managing any early-retirement process for our whole Division, they have a list of all those who are or could be eligible. List One is all those who are of sufficient age and years worked that they could retire immediately, but haven’t. List Two is all those who are over 50 and who have at least 25 years in, and who therefore can be offered an immediate early-retirement package. List Three is all those who will move onto List Two in the next three years.

She told me I’m on List Two. At that, the Spirit started pinging me: “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Wow. I’d been in some discussions about the possibility of early retirements being offered, but I hadn’t really, really considered that I could be eligible. As you know, since mid-2017 I’ve been pondering what “next” will look like, and meeting with financial planners and finding out that, basically, if I can keep my benefits into retirement, I can pretty much do whatever I want from that point. Or, to be more accurate, whatever I’m called to do, without worrying about money and insurance and etc. So there’s something appealing in the idea.

Still, very quickly I went to, “There’s no way I’ll be offered this. They’ll get enough people in List One, or in other positions on List Two, that they won’t offer it to me.” But all I kept hearing was, “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Obviously, I have no idea what may, or may not, be on offer for early-retirement this year. But there’s times when, wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

All right then, Jesus. You got my attention. Your move.

The Lord Will Provide

This coming weekend is a Chrysalis weekend, C-97. Just a year ago, my daughter and godson were getting ready for an amazing experience of Christ on their own weekend. Now they’re both part of the team putting on another weekend so 16 more teens can get an intimate view of God’s love in their lives up on the Mountain.

Last Friday, I get a text from her. Um, I may have forgotten to tell you, but Michael from church is going, and I agreed to sponsor him. Wait: Michael, from church, is YOUR sponsee? So now I’ve got a week to arrange everything for him to go? Uff! Yeah, that definitely hadn’t been communicated to me.

We go by a pay-it-forward rule, so the pilgrims walking don’t pay for the weekend, the sponsors do. Now, I readily admit, that isn’t a show-stopper for me. I confess to being blessed to where having to scramble to find $200 to pay to sponsor someone for the weekend won’t break the bank. But still, yeah, I was mildly annoyed that she had made the commitment and hadn’t asked me about it…right as we’re paying off Christmas. Uff! Mind you, that’s on top of her own teaming fee, which I also think was $200 that I had to pay recently.

One day later, I’m bringing in the mail, and there’s a letter from our mortgage company. Didn’t look like the usual mail from them, or even a sales brochure for taking on even more debt, so I opened it. They had done the annual recalculation of our escrow account, and for the first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r, we were actually over in our account this year. So here’s a check for $363 in overpaid escrows.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Here I am mere hours away from harrumphing about having to pay for ANOTHER fee, and now I have an absolutely unexpected windfall that not only allows us to sponsor Michael, but almost entirely covers my little teamer’s fee as well.

The Lord really does provide.

In fact, he promised it back in the very beginning: Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14).

On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. And even BEFORE we get to the Mountain, it will be provided! And in such abundance as to pay for TWO people to make the trip!

O me of little faith. I’ve heard it said, you can’t out-give God. He’s bound and determined to prove it to me, it seems. This is another holy moment, another holy lesson for me, in a life that keeps needing reminders of God’s absolutely, completely, unending grace.mountain