Friday – June 3, 2016: Rejoice!

Rejoice1

Psalm 113 (NRSV)

Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD; praise the name of the LORD.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,

who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD!

Sometimes we just need to rejoice, to put aside all of our worry and stress, and be grateful for all that we have, to feel the joy of being mothers and fathers of children, to experience the joy of living!

Life as a single parent can be all encompassing, and goes on and on…even when our kids are ‘grown’ we can still find ourselves caught up in our responsibilities as parents, and this can leave us feeling overwhelmed, causing us to forget all that we have to be grateful for!  This is why today’s reading is so fitting, as it reminds us that in the midst of our busy lives, we still need to take time out to rejoice, to give praise, and to celebrate the great gifts we have been given in our children!

For being a single parent is a great gift, that also goes on and on…

It may not always be easy, or always joyful, but every moment, from the best to the worst, is a reason for praise and for gratitude to God.

Being a parent is not just a responsibility, but a wonderful thing…as it gives us the opportunity of watching a new life come into the world, and then helping them to learn their way in that world, through all the joys and heartbreaks, victories and failures.  To help them as they deal with their mistakes, to watch them learn and grow up and to share love with them along the way, is a great gift!

The love between a parent and child can be a reflection of the love that God has for us, as that love is unbreakable, even though we are not always at our most lovable, even though there are times when we fall short.  Like any other parent, God may not always be pleased with our behavior, but continues to offer us forgiveness, and never stops loving us, even when we act as if that love is not shared.  Many of us may know the pain of having their children turn away from us, or telling us that they hate us.  Even in these cases, we never lose the love we have for our kids, and so it is with God, who always has our back, and is always there when needed…even if our prayers are sometimes only of the foxhole variety…and will always welcome us home no matter how far we may stray.

There is much to be grateful for in being a parent, and so many reasons to rejoice, not just once in a while, but every day, even every moment, for the thing that can wear us out and frustrate us the most, is also the greatest gift of our lives: our children!

So, let us take time to each day to celebrate the joy of being parents.  Let us take time out to play with our kids, to talk to them, to share their lives, and then to practice letting go, and taking care of ourselves.

Let Us Pray:

Dear God, thank you for the gift of being parents.  When life gets overwhelming, and we feel frustrated, please let us remember all that we have to be grateful for, and take time out to give thanks, to give praise, and to celebrate!  Help us to never lose the joy of being a parent, and of living in the light of your love, and of sharing that love with our children.

Amen

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Wednesday – May 25, 2016: Captive to Joy

Ephesians 4:7-8 (NRSV)

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”

Martin Luther taught that we were 3702067792_75d3e76e6a_zeither bound to sin or bound to God’s Grace, I would put forth that in our world today we are either captive to negativity or captive to joy.  It all depends on how we look at our lives.

Our world can be a very negative place.

We are bombarded by negativity wherever we turn: the news media thrives on tragedy, on social media it is common to find people tearing each other apart because they disagree about an issue, on the roads people will curse, gesture, and many will turn their frustration on those who are trying to help, from customer service workers, cashiers and wait-staff to First Responders and medical personnel.

In the current campaign cycle we are watching one of the candidates running away with the nomination based on his brash and negative platform of calling other people “losers” and deriding whole nationalities and religions.

As Christians, it is important for us to turn away from negativity, to make a commitment to the positive, to be captive to joy!

Being captive to joy does not mean that we are always living as shiny, happy, people, but that we seek the positive in life, we look for the light, even when things seems darkest.  Being a parent can bring us great joy, but it can also be a trial…as with much of life these days.  However, we can fall captive to the struggle and fall into a state of exhaustion and find ourselves just enduring from day to day.

This is even more so for those of us who are single parents, as we can often find ourselves feeling so overwhelmed by our responsibilities that we forget about the great gift we have been given in our children…and forget to look for the light, to seek joy, as it can seem as if we are just moving from challenge to challenge, and have little time to stop, breathe and enjoy.  However, even when we are feeling as if we have become captive to the negativity in our world, or in our own lives, there is good news for us!

The good news is present in today’s reading: the truth that through Christ we have been given a great gift, as we have been immersed in God’s gracious love, which frees us from worry and stress, and gives us the great gift of being a parent that our children can turn to and rely upon when they need support, guidance and love.  We share this love with each other, not only with our children, but also with all those around us, as we make our way in the world, navigating life as single parents.

And whenever we share this love, God is in our midst, and we are made captive to the joy of living in the light of God’s grace!

Light that empowers us to seek out the joy in a world that seems over-wrought with negativity!

Let Us Pray:

Dear God, thank you for making us captive to your gracious love.  Please help us not to fall prey to frustration, exhaustion or stress, and let us follow your Word that leads us away from the negativity of this world.  Let us share the gift of joy with all those around us, and always seek out the light, even when all seems dark…remembering that when we share you love together, is when our light shines brightest and can be shared with our children and the world.

Amen

Monday – May 23, 2016: Listen to the Kids

Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he youngjesusatthetemplewas twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Jesus was a precocious little guy!

This was probably not the first time that he tried his parents’ patience by wandering off on his own, either literally or figuratively, and certainly not the last time.  It must not have been easy to raise Jesus, not only frustrating but also confusing, as he was no ordinary kid.

But then, what kid is really ‘ordinary’?

As parents we can often see our kids as special, but at the same time we can find ourselves discounting the wisdom of our children…believing they are too young and inexperienced to know what they are talking about.  While it is true that parents often know best, there are occasions when our children can surprise us with their insight, as they come at things from a different point of view.  For example, one damp spring morning many years ago, while rushing to get my daughter to daycare before running off to another busy day at work, she announced from the back-seat “Look at the heart.” I asked her what she was talking about and she pointed out a pattern in the moisture on the corner of the windshield, that looked like a heart.  “That means God loves us!” she told me.

That piece of wisdom turned my whole day around and continues to inspire me, whenever the day feels too long, and life seems too touch.

Over the years, my daughter has given me great advice: like not to stress the small stuff so much, to lighten up on myself when I made a mistake, and has reminded me to rely upon my faith.  She has also given me advice on relationships, warning me away from some, and encouraging towards others, including the one I am in now, which has been my most successful.

Of course, I have also shared my own experience, strength and hope with her as well…but the key word here is “share” because it goes both ways, as we have each gotten much out of sharing our wisdom.

Our kids are far from ‘ordinary’ and many can also be precocious, like Jesus was, or like my (now grown-up) daughter is.  However, our kids also have as much to give us and we give them.  I know I am a better person because of raising her, and listening to her…for I believe that God speaks through the people around us, through all those we love, and even those we don’t.  And like Jesus in the midst of the temple, God’s voice comes to us right where we are, in the midst of our own lives, even when we are not paying attention.

Let us pray:

Dear God, thank you for coming to us right where we are, and for speaking your wisdom to us in the voices of those around us.  Help us to not only give our wisdom to our children, but to see the wisdom in their words, so that we can truly share our faith, and the lessons we have learned in this life.  For it is when we are truly sharing with our children and all those around us that you are truly in our midst.

Amen

Mother’s Day – May 8, 2016: What Would Mom Do?

Mothers-DayJohn 17:20-26

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

We were probably the first Gospel that our children have ever heard.

Listen:

It IS Mother’s Day, so I will tell you a story about my mother…

I was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was in second grade…

People with this condition often have a hard time learning how to read, and I was no exception, while my classmates had moved on to more advanced literature, I was still struggling with “Dick and Jane”.

A friend of the family noticed the signs and helped get me into an experimental tutoring program designed to help kids with learning disabilities like mine.

My mother took me to tutoring once a week and then worked with me at home, to reinforce what I had learned there.

She would drill me over and over again with flash-cards, and she would push me to read: everything from street signs, to magazines and books.

It could not have been easy for her, as I often got frustrated when the words did not make sense to me, and wanted to quit after only a few minutes…but she never gave up!

After several months of work and tutoring I finally began to learn a way around my Dyslexia, and before long I had graduated from children’s books to grown-up novels an non-fiction books…and I have been an avid reader ever since…

Being able to read and write is one of the many gifts that I can thank my mother for.

Her commitment helped to open up a world for me that I might never have known otherwise, and gave me the opportunity to know life and the world in new ways…giving me exposure to new ideas and points of view.

For instance, one of the first books I read was “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.

In the novel, books have been banned by a repressive government, who saw the ideas they conveyed as dangerous and subversive.

Anyone caught with books would be arrested on the spot and thrown into prison.

The main character of the book was a “Fireman” whose job it was to burn any books that were found, right where they were, even if that meant burning down the house!

In order to preserve these works of literature, a group of people went into hiding in the woods, far from the city, where each person would be assigned a book to memorize, so it could be shared with others and protected from the firemen until freedom could be restored.

This same sort of oral tradition was how the Gospels were originally told, as stories, memorized and passed down from believer to believer.

Stories of the preaching and teaching of Jesus, who tells us in today’s Gospel that he is in the father and that the father is in him, for it is through Christ that God’s love it made known to the world…

Like in the book, these stories were also seen as dangerous and subversive by a repressive government, the Romans, who would often kill or imprison those who claimed to follow Christ.

This is part of the reason why it took so long for the Gospels to be put into writing…because it was not safe…but then Jesus’s message of God’s love for all people is not always safe, as it is a transformative message, one that eventually brought down the Roman Empire and which continues to change the world!

The Gospel is a message does not belong to some distant past, but is always evolving to speak to our constantly changing world, and because the Gospel of Christ is a message that continues to speak to us of God’s love, as followers of Christ we are called to carry this message in all that we do…and to teach it to our children, so that they can share this gift with others.

In this way we are like those people in the novel who actually became the books they memorized: as we are the living, breathing Gospel, proclaiming the good news of God’s love, active and alive…and right here, where we are!

This is how we may have been the first Gospel our children (and perhaps many others) have ever heard. Because we are the first teachers our children will have…just as my mother was for me!

Let us Pray:

Dear God, we thank you for the ‘mothers’ in our lives, who have guided and taught us throughout our lives, passing their faith onto us. In the same way please help us to pass on the lessons of our mothers, and those who loved us, to our children, as this is a reflection of your gracious love, alive and active in our world…through each of us!

Amen

Scars

Recently, I heard a commercial for a product that will fade scars, the implication being that scars are unattractive and a cause of embarrassment.  As for myself, I would not want to make my scars fade away; our scars can be valuable, as they can tell our stories.

I have a variety of scars all over my body, and each one has a story attached to it.  There is the scar on my calf from where a dog bit me while riding my bike on the Perkiomen Trail in April of 2007.  I was riding up the hill towards Collegeville, when I saw a women coming down towards me.  She had two dogs that she was having trouble controlling.  I moved to the other side of the trail, and then so did she, so I moved back, and so did she.  When we were about to run into each other, I pointed to the other side of the trail, and began moving again, but I hit a patch of mud that slowed me down, and that was enough time for the dog to take a chunk out of my leg. Although she gave me her information, she never answered my phone calls and the bite cost a lot of money as I needed to go to the ER to get my wounds cleaned and tetanus shots, but I did not have health insurance.  I did however, get the dog quarantined, so I hope that cost them a few bucks in vet bills.

I have a new scar on my right elbow, from when I shattered it by falling on the ice last year, one on my right knee from when I had a weird growth removed la few years ago. and two on either side of my right ankle from when I fell while roller-skating with my daughter in 1998 and broke it in three places.  That took three pins and a titanium strip, and three days in the hospital.  I was left with long scars on the both sides of my ankle, which I like to show off when I can…it also left me with the ability to know whenever a Thunderstorm is nearby.

On my right shin is a tiny scar that I can hardly find any more, which is I got at Camp Beisler during the summer of 1974, when two of the counselors were teaching me how to dive, and I was positioned over the ladder that led down into the water from the dock.  When they told us to go I hesitated and fell, putting a nice gash in my leg.  I got to ride back to the infirmary in the old WWII era Jeep (which did not have any brakes) where they put on few butterfly bandages and sent me on my way.  The worst part was that I could not go swimming again that week.

I also have several scars on my head, one from when I was wrestling with my friend Jeffrey Moon after church one Sunday in ’76.  He pushed me and I fell, cracking my head on a cement step.  After I fell, I got up, but was dizzy.  I could feel that I had been hurt, but not how badly.  I walked into the church and found my mother and put my head on her shoulder.  I looked up to see everyone rushing to help me, and saw that I had left a big blood stain on my mother’s dress! Fortunately one of the church members was a nurse, and he wrapped up my head with gauze and took me to the hospital where I got 12 stitches!  It was also fortunate that it was the ’70’s and my mother’s dress was mostly polyester and easy to clean!

Then there is the slight bump on my upper lip, from 1968, when I tripped over the TV cord while on my way to the bathroom.  That also lead to an evening in the ER, I was 5 and not very cooperative, but my big sister, who is a nurse, was there to help calm me down.  That left me with several stitches in my lip, which was no fun, but I was able to use a straw to drink my milk in Kindergarten…and no one else was allowed to do that!!

And I have a tiny scar, buried in my right eyebrow, from when I took a tumble off the second floor of the house in East Orange.  Although it was only about 15 feet, over the years the height has varied from 20 to 30 feet as I have told the story.  But it was only 15 feet, and that’s far enough to fall!  I was on the porch roof, painting the house when I got a phone call.  I leaned on the balcony railing, unaware that it was rotted, to ask my dad who it was, and next thing I knew I was falling and then crashing to the ground.  That was another trip to the ER, more X-rays, and a few cracked ribs as well as three stitches in my eyebrow.

The fun scar is in the middle of my forehead, and can only be seen when I crinkle my brow.  It was Thanksgiving 1986, and I had just started my job at ADP.  I was at my brother Paul’s for Thanksgiving Dinner with the family.  I was still drinking back then, and I had a few beers, so I was in fine form.  When my nephews asked me to play with them in the basement, I was happy to join in their game of tag!  We ran around the basement with the lights off, shining flashlights around to see.  Suddenly, I sensed that they were in danger, and leaped into action!  Without a thought for my own well-being, I slammed into the H-VAC duct to save my nephews from certain doom (it was attacking them)!  My sister, the nurse, was there again, and she told me it was no big deal as she bandaged me up, but she made stay away from the booze for the rest of the day before giving me the okay to drive home a few hours later, once she was sure I did not have a concussion.  It was fun going back to my new job the next day (yes, we were open the day after Thanksgiving) having to explain the huge band-aid on my head.

I also have several more, smaller scars, from burns (some recent, from my time working for a Cleaning and Restoration Company), to cuts and scrapes from bike riding, drunken falls, and do it yourself home repair projects…oh yeah and the one on my big toe from when my brother Pete set off a firecracker near my bare foot while in vacation in Canada in ’67 (to be fair though, he did yell at me to move before the firecracker went off)!

However, the most striking scars are also the ones that run deepest.  They are long ugly surgical scars on my shoulders!  These scars were given to me by my biological parents, who often let their emotions and their anger get the better of them. When I was little I used to tell people that I had those scars because I was adopted, which was not far from the truth, as it is because of those scars that I was adopted!

I was taken away from my biological parents due to the abuse, and it was the severity of my injuries that ensured that I would not be given back to them, but would instead be put into the foster care system.  The surgery itself was a gift of Dr. Kessler, the man who saved my life, and they remind me to be grateful for the family that gave me the opportunity to live my life, the family who adopted me and became my real family!

When times are tough, or I am feeling like things are not working out the way I would like them too…all I need to do is look at those scars on my shoulders and remember that every day I live on this earth, is a gift.  Okay I don’t always live like each day is a gift, as I can be very grouchy and un-grateful far too often; but it is true, that I could have died before my first birthday, if not for the grace of God, working through those who stepped in to help me.

I would never want to lose my scars, as they tell my story, the good and the bad, and the foolish; getting these scars made me who I am today, and in many ways I am only who I am today because of these scars and how getting them have changed my life.  Getting rid of my scars would be like denying a large part of who I am, and it would give me fewer stories to tell.

Thursday – February 4, 2016: Being Known

 

 

Jeremiah 1:4-5

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you wereknown born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Today’s lesson speaks of God’s great gift of love for us…love that we have no choice in, just as our children have no choice in how much we love them! Just as many of us have felt, God loved us even before we were formed, and chose to make us part of the family, a gift given freely to us through God’s grace which shines out to us through the love we share together!

Being chosen to be part of a family is really a great gift. As an adoptee, I know this gift first hand, and am grateful that it takes more than biology to make a family.  It reminds me that my family wanted me to become one of them, welcomed me into their lives, and have shown me love and compassion, and honesty that has often caused me to forget the whole “adopted’ label!

As a single parent, I have had the gift of forming a strong bond with the only person in the world that I know that I am biologically related to! However, the whole single parent experience has opened my world and my heart to see how my family is so much larger than I ever could have imagined!

As reluctant as I have been to ask others for help, I have often found myself with no other choice but to reach out to others. At other times, I have had help thrust upon me, when ‘others’ saw that I was in over my head.  Often this was given to me by my family, at other times by friends or parents of my daughter’s friends.   This help and support has expanded my horizons, and who I consider to be like family for me!

This has helped when I have been down, and wanted to isolate, and I got a call or a text or made myself get out to reconnect with the people in my life who have helped me so much! This works both ways too…as I can find myself helping other people as much as they have helped me.  This can also get me out of my own head!

At this stage in my life, this has even worked with my daughter, as she has helped me get off the ‘pity-pot’ and to have faith, just as I have offered her love and support throughout her life. This is how a family supports each other and shows love for each other…not matter who are family is!

And knowing that we are all connected, all children of God, makes our family so much bigger, and reminds us that we are never alone, no matter where life leads us, we are always immersed in God’s grace and surrounded by the love of God as shared with all those in our lives! Living in the light of this gift, and knowing that we have been loved by God…forever…like we have loved our own children, we are given the strength and support to face the challenges of facing life on life’s terms as a single parent, and as a member of the family!

Let Us Pray:

Dear God, thank you for making us part of the family…for loving us even before we existed, and thank you that this love is everlasting! Please let us remember that we are loved, known and never alone as we raise our children and live our lives in this challenging world!  Help us to share this love and grace together, as we are part of the same family; remembering that helping others is a great way to reset our mood and to give us hope and strength when both feel in short supply!

Amen

Sunday – January 24, 2016: “All That…”!

 

Luke 4:14-21

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has 10252053_10205711413734945_197825183069884239_nanointed me         to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,         to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In in today’s Gospel we find Jesus sounded like…well, like kind of a jerk!

This proclamation does seem very audacious of Jesus, and we can understand why the people gathered in the temple that day did not receive these words very well! They did not know Jesus like we do.

Imagine if someone stood up in the middle of your church service, and proclaimed that he or she was fulfillment of the scriptures, or in other words: “God’s gift to the world”!! You may think that this person is very arrogant, and full of themselves!

We have all known people like this, who think that they are “all that…” Sometimes it is our co-workers, our partners (or ex-partners), teachers, our kids, and even ourselves!  There have been times when I felt very full of myself  because I chose to be a single father…but then, as it does, reality comes  back to keep me ‘right sized’!

It is part of human nature to sometimes get ahead of ourselves, just like there are many times when we are unjustly hard on ourselves…few of us are perfect, not as children, spouses, friends, co-workers or even as parents. This is okay, for we are not called to be perfect, and immersed in God’s gracious love, we are forgiven and freed to fulfill the scriptures by being God’s gift to the world, through sharing the compassion and love of God with each other!

If we re-read today’s gospel, we see that Jesus is not proclaiming himself to be God’s gift, but is only quoting the scriptures! Jesus is teaching those in the temple, and each of us, that we are called to be God’s gift to the world, by sharing the good news of God’s love with all who need to experience it for themselves!

When we forgive others for their moments of weakness and arrogance, when we make amends for our own failings, when we take on the responsibilities of being a single parent, and are there to help our children and others when they are struggling, when we give hope and direction to those who are feeling lost and alone, we are fulfilling the scriptures, and being God’s gift!

And if we are to truly follow Jesus, we are called to share God’s gifts not through arrogance but through humility, because to help others and then act as if we are “All that…” because we did it, can ruin it for us, taking away any good feelings we may get from doing the right thing…I know!

Through humbly acting as God’s gift to the world, we will be teaching our children how to share these gifts in their own lives: quietly, and honestly, without bravado or arrogance…and they, in turn can teach this lesson to all those around them, perhaps even to their own children one day.

As the old hymn goes, “…they will know we are Christians by our love” and that is all the promotion we need, and making God’s love known to the world, and encouraging others to do the same was how Jesus called upon us to fulfill the scriptures in all that we do! When we do this we truly will be “All that…” for our children, for others and for ourselves!

Let Us Pray:

Dear God, please help us to humbly follow you, and never to feel as if we are “All that…” because we have been immersed in your grace and forgiveness. Please let us remember that this is a gift that can best be shared through offering humble service to all those around us, both through what we do and say and also through the example we set for our children.  Help us to always shine the light of your love wherever we go and in all that we do.

Amen