Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Mission Christmas Tree

There is a tradition here at Friendship United Methodist Church that I truly love. Early in the month of December, before it really gets hectic, we have what is called Old Fashioned Christmas. This year we had this event on December 4. Basically, it is simply a night of family fun for the whole church and community. This year we had a ton of visitors for which we are so thankful.

Of course we start out with supper, which is usually 10 to 15 crocks of homemade soup, chilies and luscious grilled cheese sandwiches. After supper it's to the sanctuary for a rollicking round of Christmas carols, and usually a special guest. Now you may think that the special guest is Santa. Not so. Every year we have a different Christmas guest. The theme of the Old Fashioned Christmas this year was The Polar Express, and it turned out that a grand old conductor dropped by to tell the story of the first gift of Christmas.

After carols and story time it was back to the kitchen to bake cookies and do crafts. Also this year face painting was provided by yours truly. It was a great night of fun and fellowship, and getting to know some new friends. 

But I think my favorite part of Old Fashioned Christmas is the beautiful Christmas tree that we decorate with scarves, gloves, hats and toboggans, blankets and pajamas. The items from this tree go to our local outreach ministry. This year the tree looked beautiful with the lights, the grand star atop the tree, and best of all, the love for others that glistens from its green boughs. 
In these days when all we seems to hear is nasty rhetoric being slung around about everything under the sun, I am so thankful that there are nights of fun and joy, in a place where I can see Jesus.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving on My Mind

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.                               1Thessalonians 5: 16-18

                When I was a child, I remember Thanksgiving as the day when daddy went squirrel hunting. I never saw the correlation between squirrels and Thanksgiving.  Maybe it was my dad’s way of taking the day, doing something that afforded peace and quiet, a luxury that he rarely enjoyed as a dairy farmer.  

                In the mornings, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade streamed its way across our 16” black and white television. My brother, Gerald and I laid on our bellies with our chins on our hands and watched every turn and tilt. We appraised every step, every band, every float, waiting as anxiously as the children on the crowded New York City streets for Santa to signal the end of the parade with his generous toss of candies to the good children. It was glorious to watch the giant balloon figures being hoisted, guided, and held down by the street walking anchors.

                My older brothers, Troy and Eric, were off somewhere doing whatever big brothers did on those Thanksgiving days, their passion of parade watching long past. Mamma was cooking. Occasionally she would call me into the kitchen to help peel the eggs for deviling, or smash the potatoes for creaming, or to taste the whipped topping for the pumpkin pie. What lusciousness was Thanksgiving! Except for Tom.

                The barnyard turkey (Tom) that cooked silently in the oven had the previous day strutted around the yard like plumed royalty. I had to admit that I would miss that hateful old bird and his run-at-you meanderings. But the old fellow’s skinny legs, dry “un-Butter-balled” breast, and stringy neck suckered us all that day, and the following days in soups, salads, and anything else my mother could think to make out of the husky 25 pounder. If it had not been for Mamma’s giblet gravy, we would have all succumbed to the wrath of Tom.

                I don’t remember any special prayers or other exacting reminders of gratitude. Thanksgiving seemed more of a feeling than any kind of activity or ritual. Thanksgiving’s specialness came from the wonder of food and being together, away from the barn, off from school, and out of the field. There was no thought of Black Friday sales. There was no rush to finish dinner to watch the big game. There was not even any resistance in taking a nap. Wal-Mart had not come to town; computers were not invented; and our phone was on a wait-your-turn party line.

                The world has changed a great deal in my lifetime. I imagine all old people say the same thing. I know my grandmother, who never got to high-school, said it…during her life she saw the invention of cars, the A-bomb, and rockets that shot men into outer space. Throughout all of time, things have been changing. But that is okay with me. I choose to be grateful for change.

                We move forward in time, but I don’t worry about that, because God is here and God is in the future. Before I sat down to write this meditation about Thanksgiving, I hastily counted the number of times the word “thanks” shows up in God’s word. Well, a lot, over 100 times. To give thanks is commanded throughout the Bible. Jesus did it. Paul did it. Peter and the apostles did it.

     I believe a grateful heart doesn’t have time to be otherwise. A grateful heart can’t be filled with the ugliness of hate, the corrosion of bigotry, or the decay of greed. When we are being thankful, we are being our best. When gratitude holds our center, we are free from many things that would hurt us.

                May God help me to have a grateful heart. Amen.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Report from the Valley of Maggie

When I think about Lake Junaluska, my thoughts are always filled with nostalgia and joy. Last week I was blessed to come to the Lake for the United Methodist Women Spiritual Growth Retreat. I had a wonderful time with the ladies from the church I serve, Friendship UMC in Statesville. We laughed, sat and porch-rocked, had meals together and worshiped in Stuart Auditorium. I also saw women from my home church, Oak Hill UMC and from churches I served in the past years. 

It is such a happiness to see old friends and to reminisce about the times we have shared together. It seems funny to me that when I look back, I only see the good times. If there were times not so good…they have faded from my heart. That is the power of grace in our lives. God’s abiding grace keeps the good and removes the bad. I am glad for that.

One thing Rev. Toni Ruth Smith spoke about last week is our life’s work. She said that learning to love like God does...takes a lifetime. As she mentioned, that is the Wesleyan theology of sanctifying grace. Rev. Smith reminded us that we must not be so hard on ourselves when we realize that we have not yet reached that pinnacle of perfection, when we see ourselves breaking a commandment, when we erroneously compare ourselves to some culturally-determined ideal. We must remember she said…we have a work of a lifetime to get it right. God’s amazing grace is how we get there, because we cannot get there on our own.

This week, I am back to Lake Junaluska for annual conference. Ed and I walked around the Lake today dodging the goose poop, talking, and just enjoying the day and each other. It is such a good thing to have a bit of time to do just those kinds of simple things before the hubbub of conference begins "in earnest," as Bishop Goodpaster described it,  tomorrow morning…very early for me (7am).

This year we are tasked with selecting our members to the General Conference 2016. I would like to go to that conference, but alas…I’m not popular enough to get elected. The story of my life! I tried out to be a cheerleader once…same story.  

Best of all, God is with us.