Five Minute Friday: Alone

Teddy bear

(So, I’ve been participating in a “writers’ flash mob” of sorts called Five Minute Friday. In response to a one-word prompt, hundreds of writers sit down and write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font or punctuation; unscripted and unedited. Here’s today’s edition…setting the timer….)

Five Minute Friday: Alone

Go.

This week a young mother came out to a community agency board meeting without her newborn. She had only a little time to spare before getting back for the next feeding.

As we chatted, a strong memory muscled its way into my brain – the memory of the very first time I left the house alone after our son was born.

I went to the grocery store.

Being alone felt extremely weird.

As I drove the car to the store, I realized that my habit of listening to classical music so that the baby in my womb could also hear it was no longer a consideration.

I could listen to it because I liked it, but there was nobody else in the car to hear it.

I was alone.

For the first time in more than nine months.

Alone.

I quickly completed my shopping and headed back.

I was anxious to get home, because, well, it felt weird to be out. Alone.

As I pulled into the garage, my husband swung open the inside door and enthusiastically proclaimed that our son’s umbilical cord stub had fallen off.

I’m sure he was surprised by the tears this announcement called forth.

The truth hit gut-punch hard.

The last symbolic evidence that we had once been physically attached was gone.

Here was proof that our son was his own separate person.

Not part of me.

An individual.

Of course that is how it should be.

It’s been fun to watch him develop and grow and emerge as the unique person he is.


Last week our son started high school.

Dropping him off and watching him saunter into the high school with his back pack slung over his shoulder…I felt a hint of that old gut-punch realization.

He is his own, separate person.

Of course that is how it should be.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tears for this mom as she watches her son head off into the wider world.

Alone.

Stop. High school hallway with blue lockers

Lost and Found

Screenshot of map showing location of Rymer UMC - far from any main road.

I always leave a little extra time to get lost.

When I head out to a place I’ve never been, even when I have researched the directions and have a good idea of which roads and turn offs to take, experience has taught me to leave time to get lost.

Because…well…I often do.

This past week was one of those times. Almost to my destination and near the end of a 45 minute drive along country roads, I missed a turn off and had to search for a place to turn around and double back.

Rymer United Methodist Church, nestled in a beautiful but remote part of Marion County, West Virginia, was this week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.) The congregation held a special combined worship service with the other church on its charge, hosted some talented and spiritually-grounded guest musicians, and topped it all off with a covered-dish-lunch-spread worthy of its own write-up. (Homemade chicken and noodles and peanut butter cake anyone?)

Church sign for Rymer United Methodist Church - stating Sunday August 23 Music Worship Service 11:00. Small country church in background.

So, this week’s adventure included a lost and found.

I was temporarily lost, but then found what I was looking for.

That’ll preach.

That. Will. Preach.

When it comes to our spiritual lives, aren’t we always on a journey; now and then temporarily lost; now and then finding what we are looking for; confident in our faith that we will get where we need to go?

Just as when we physically travel, the keys to a successful spiritual journey include willingness to start down the path; tolerance for losing our way; and tenacity to turn around and double back when we miss a turn or take the wrong one.

This week I studied the route, willingly started out into new territory, didn’t worry when I got temporarily lost, and found myself at a beautifully quaint church with warm and welcoming people, Spirit-filled music, and comforting country cooking.

It was all worth the risk of temporarily losing my way; it was worth the journey.

I found what I was looking for: authentic and heartfelt worship, praise and fellowship.

I found it 45 minutes out a country road and past a missed turn off.

In life, we will get lost at times, despite planning and researching and trying to always be in control of our situation. We can’t always rush things and we definitely can’t plan out each moment down to the finest detail. We need to leave a little extra time to lose and find our way.

It’s going to happen.

The losing and finding.

We’ll get there.

And when we do, it will have been worth the journey.

Musicians warm up at the front of the sanctuary before worship at Rymer United Methodist Church.

Shawna Weikle, Beverly Richards, Dave Yanero and Rodney Richards warm-up before leading worship at Rymer United Methodist Church on August 23, 2015.

Five Minute Friday: Find

Library on-line search box - Search the library's holdings for books, eBooks, digital records, images, periodicals, and more. Keyword box, search box, and choice of All Libraries. Also Advanced Keyword Search link.

(So, I’ve been participating in a “writers’ flash mob” of sorts called Five Minute Friday. In response to a one-word prompt, hundreds of writers sit down and write for five minutes flat. No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font or punctuation; unscripted and unedited. Here’s today’s edition…setting the timer….)

Five Minute Friday: Find

Go.

It’s a vast and exciting world we live in.

How on earth anybody could ever seriously feel bored is foreign territory to my way of thinking.

Places to go, people to meet, books to read, music to hear, foods to try, things to see.

Endless.

And nearly every community has a magical gateway to begin exploring it all.

From earliest memory and continuing to this day, one of my absolute favorite places in the world is a library.

Stories – real and imagined; basic facts and information; shelves and databases to search for and find the next interesting idea to pursue… It’s all here!

What you find in a library can lead you to new experiences.

It can also allow you to learn about what others experienced before you – and quite possibly allow you to make new sense out of things you have experienced yourself.

This morning I finished reading my latest library book – The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri.

As I reflected on today’s Five Minute Friday prompt (FIND), a beautiful line from the book caught my eye.

It describes an old man visiting a new place – a place he has never been, but that calls forth memories from his own past.

“On ancient ground that is new to him…”

You won’t find a better description of a library.

Stop.

Annie Merner Pfieffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College - at dusk. All windows and cupola are lit up. Christmas lights are draped in a shrub out front.

Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library, West Virginia Wesleyan College

 

Do As I Say

Front of sanctuary at Crim Memorial United Methodist Church in Philippi, West Virginia

I’ve been saying for a while that I wanted to visit a certain church – mainly because good friends of mine worship there. We first met about a year and a half ago, but they have quickly become two very encouraging and supportive people in my life.

I’ve been saying I wanted to go there, but this past weekend I actually did it.

As it turns out, the tension between “saying” and “doing” was the focus of Sunday’s worship service at Crim Memorial United Methodist Church in Philippi, West Virginia – this week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here.)

To give you an idea of this tension between “saying” and “doing” – the opening hymn was “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” but the theme of the sermon boiled down to “actions speak louder than words.”

So should we wish for more tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise or should we wish for more hands helping out at the food pantry?

WWJD?

Jesus employed words and actions during his ministry. He shared parables to teach important concepts, but he also laid healing hands on the sick and served up bread and fish to the hungry.

If we are to follow his example, it would seem both “saying” and “doing” are important work for a Christian disciple.

I think where we run into trouble is when what we do fails to match up with what we say.

I don’t believe it’s a matter of “actions speak louder than words” so much as it’s a problem when either our words or our actions loudly betray our calling as disciples.

Both words and actions can speak loudly.

Both have the power to inspire, heal, and energize, but both also have the power to discourage, harm and deflate.

I recommend using our words and our hands – but guarding against either of them being hurtful.

I suggest using our words and our hands – and making every effort to have our hands do what our words say we think is right.

The pastor put it this way: “Are we living what we profess?”

As disciples we are called upon to be a light in the world.

Of course a light can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the circumstances.

Bright sunlight directly in your eyes while you attempt to steer your car along a curvy road?

– Not so good.

Bright sunlight streaming through a beautiful stained glass window?

– Priceless and inspirational.

We are called to be a light in the world with what we say and what we do.

May we, through what we say and what we do, be a light that encourages and inspires and not one that blinds and distracts.

Lord, let me do as I say.

Morning sunlight streams through a stained glass window, creating bright patches of light on a red carpet.

No Question

Question marks on a notecard - placed across passage in Job 23

There’s no question about it.

Sometimes life’s not fair. And when we think life’s not fair, we question God.

We question whether he cares…even whether he exists.

We question.

Is that OK?

The message at Avery United Methodist Church near Morgantown, West Virginia – this week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here) – met this “question about questioning” head on.

I traveled to a mountaintop to hear a sermon about living in the valley. View out the front doors of Avery UMC near Morgantown, WV - past parking lot and then out over the mountains.

We heard two passages of scripture – one New Testament and one Old Testament – highlighting times when people questioned God.

In Mark 10:17-31, we witness the rich young ruler questioning Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life.

In Job 23:1-9, 16-17, we listen in as Job looks everywhere for God, preparing to state his case about his unfair treatment.

I’ll cut to the chase of the message.

Yes, it’s OK to ask your questions, voice your doubts, and share your hurts and anger with God.

It’s more than OK.

When we find ourselves in these valleys of doubt, hurt or anger, it feels like we are alone. We’re often afraid to tell people we feel this way, worrying that they will question our faith.

But true freedom is finding the courage to acknowledge what we are experiencing and voice our questions.

Keep talking to God.

He won’t hold it against you.

Even Jesus on the cross did this.

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The rich young ruler asked his questions – although he could not accept the answers.

Job asked his questions – and ultimately rediscovered his place in God’s care.

Jesus asked his questions – and was raised from the dead to take his place with God.

Knowing all this… should we confidently voice our questions, our doubts, our hurts, and our anger to God?

Yes.

Should we despair when we don’t hear or understand his answers or can’t sense him nearby?

No.

Should the church – the Body of Christ in the physical world – tolerate and patiently listen to our questions, our doubts, our hurts, and our anger?

Yes.

God is bigger than our questions, our doubts, our hurts, and our anger.

The church – if it truly represents the Body of Christ in the world – should be, too.

No question.

Front of sanctuary at Avery UMC, Morgantown, WV

Prime the Pump

Front of sanctuary at Sabra United Methodist Church in Sabraton, WV

The pastor shared a story about priming the pump.

A weary, thirsty traveler comes upon a water pump in the middle of the desert. A note attached to the pump states that in order to get any water out of the pump, it has to be primed first – which involves pouring water into the pump. Luckily for the traveler, there is a bottle of water buried in the sand just for this purpose.

The deal is that the whole bottle of water must be poured into the pump, or it won’t be primed.

The question, of course, is whether the thirsty traveler will decide to drink some (or all) of the bottle of water to slake the immediate thirst. Or will they risk pouring the precious water into the pump on the promise that – if they do – there will be plenty of water for them and to refill the prime-the-pump bottle for the next thirsty traveler.

This week’s stop on my Summer Itinerancy 2015 (which you can read about here) was Sabra United Methodist Church in Sabraton, West Virginia.

I picked this church because a high school student I know was going to deliver the message.

As it turned out, his message was rescheduled for another time. I didn’t hear a sermon by a teenager, but I did experience worship with a congregation that is full out priming the pump.

I found a congregation that welcomed and included and nurtured the children and youth in its midst.

I found a small but engaged congregation of multi-generational believers where young and old were actively involved in worship and in the life of the church.

My friend didn’t give the sermon but he did lead the congregation through the order of worship.

A four-year-old respectfully and reverently carried the offering forward to the altar during the doxology.

A baby, sometimes asleep and sometimes awake, reminded everyone of the joy of new life.

Older members prepared and brought forward prayer blankets.

Members and visitors of all ages came forward to tie some of the knots on the blankets.

Voices of all ages rang out to share prayer requests and sing hymns.

This congregation was priming the pump of Christian witness.

Everyone, regardless of age or ability, was included and invited to actively participate in the worship service.

This congregation poured the full bottle, so to speak, into the worship pump.

Young people were empowered and also saw that their parents and grandparents continued to play active roles in worship.

Visitors were welcomed and engaged.

Nobody was there to casually observe or be entertained.


When we come to worship just to slake our own immediate spiritual thirst – we fail to prime the pump.

When we aren’t willing to actively participate – or if we stand in the way of others being able to actively participate – we fail to prime the pump.

Only when we pour in our whole self – and allow others to do the same – will we, as the church, prime the pump for God’s living water to pour out into our lives.

It’s how the children and youth know they are already part of the church – now – not the “future of the church” hustled off to some other place during worship.

It’s how the parents – or adults with no children – know they are part of the church – now – for themselves – not just because they are bringing kids to church.

It’s how the elderly know they are part of the church – now – still – not in the past, not pushed aside, not forgotten.


As I worked on writing this post, I considered possible photos to include.

A park near our home has a small water pump next to one of the picnic shelters, so I decided to pop down there and take a picture of it.

I took a couple photos of the pump, but they were not all that good.

Water pump

Meh.

Then, the children came.

A group of small children – about the age of the little girl who carried the offering to the altar on Sunday – ventured over to me. They told me all about the pump.

They told me water comes out of it to drink – and you can attach a hose to it.

One little boy said he’d show me – and with a hands-on demonstration he pumped the handle and water gushed out.

Then all the kids jumped in the puddles of water.

Turns out, it’s not about the pump.

In a way, it’s not even about the water – the physical water, anyway.

It’s about the people who will gather around the pump…looking for water.

Looking for conversation and relationship.

Looking for a chance to be hands-on.

Looking for God.

It’s not about the pump.

It’s about priming the pump.

It’s about priming the pump by pouring everything in and trusting in the promise that – when we do – the living water will appear.

Water pump with several children holding their hands under the spout

Photo by Sarah Lowther Hensley