Another Sunday Rolls Around

Back in the day, I went to church and it was okay. It was never anything special until my husband, Stephen and I began going to The Gathering in downtown Dallas. The Gathering is a church for the “unhoused”. The homeless. The Gathering has changed our lives in so many ways. It has certainly changed the way I worship God and my attitude towards others.

The first time we went to The Gathering, it was the first or second week in September 2013. I admit I was a bit skeptical. No other church had really captured my heart. But, it wasn’t just the church I was skeptical of- I’d never been around “unhoused” people. I’d seen them on the street, sometimes hanging out by a 7-11 or similar store hoping to catch some change to get a cup of coffee or maybe even a meal. I  had never really spoken to any homeless people and like so many – I didn’t really even look at them- I had no money I could share and I didn’t want to feel guilty about not giving them anything.

That first Sunday we went to worship with the folks at The Gathering- well, it was just amazing- that’s the only word to describe it. The people, the folks I had never looked at, were welcoming, loving, grateful, happy and worshipped God with a fervor and an appreciation I’d never seen before. All at once, I was inspired to worship in the same way. I wanted the happiness and love they had found. I know what many are thinking- “they are happy, because they are addicts and/or mentally ill.” While some are addicts and some are mentally ill, that is not the happiness I’m talking about. It’s a high, but right then, that Sunday, it was a “high on God” I was witnessing.

My Sundays have been transformed from a “meh” kind of worship to an amazing kind of worship that lasts all week. I saw that even though many of the people worshipping have nothing, they are happy to worship with all their hearts each Sunday. This is what worship should be. God gives us the joy to worship Him this way. We just have to find it in order to do so.

I hope everyone has a place like The Gathering to call their own. There is no better feeling than to worship God on Sunday and have it last all week. Nothing better.

many unhoused people, much joy
many unhoused people, much joy
Father Charlie brings the sermon
Father Charlie brings the sermon

Not in Control

“He’s just going to die- there’s no cure,” a doctor told , explaining my son has cystic fibrosis.Imagine someone saying that after giving birth 9 weeks prior. Not just anyone,either, but a doctor – one who is used to delivering this kind of news and apparently finds it an easy task after all these years diagnosing children. Perhaps he had become immune. I don’t know.

Thus began my journey to keep my son from dying. Never stopped

Micah today- doing well and happily married .
Micah today- doing well and happily married .

to think it was not in my power to keep Micah from dying. It was God’s deal. Why did he choose me? Why did he choose Micah? Why did I wonder that? I was so angry with God. So angry that any child would be diagnosed with any disease and the parents having to hear what the doctor god had to say- hearing the death sentence pronounced on a helpless, innocent baby.

I call him the doctor god because he came across as if he knew everything about everything. He made pronouncements about our baby- about other’s babies. Condemning them to death, perhaps  because he really felt helpless to do anything for him. But, it was never his deal. It was God’s deal. It still is.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a disease of the lung and endocrine system . The mucous found in all of our bodies are usually thin and slippery. In a child with CF, this mucous is thick, sticky and loves hanging out in the lungs of these kids. Pneumonia is rampant and scar tissue forms. The pancreas, seemingly lazy, is just really not equipped to digests fats in the diet and digestive enzymes are needed to digest food. Breathing treatments must be employed to keep the lungs clear and mucous free. Some kids have low lung function, making it difficult to breathe and sometimes gasping instead.

My baby boy was very sick the first year of his life. I was told on his birthday the first year the doctors had not thought he would live that long. Not even a year! The life span used to be 10 years old. Then 16. Now, the life span of a child with CF may be over 35 years. I knew a man who was about 80 when he passed away. He had not been diagnosed with the disease until he was in his 30’s. CF is unpredictable. Some kids may not live long at all, some may live a long, almost symptom-free life. It’s still God’s deal.

I began to explore my thoughts about why God allows these things to happen. I believe things happen for a reason. For me, I came to the conclusion this baby was sent to teach me how to take the the spotlight off me because it’s not all about Paula. He was sent to teach me patience and acceptance and love – real, unconditional, frightening, risky love. Risky. The risk of losing my boy was all too real. I knew that the love would never be lost even though I was afraid to put my heart on the line for him. How could I not love him- he drew me in- and I couldn’t help but love him .

I am grateful God sent me this amazing young man. It’s been hard at times, but my son has lived and thrived when they said he wouldn’t.  He graduated elementary, jr. high and then high school. He’s funny and smart and funny some more. He’s taught me to loosen up, lighten up and enjoy every minute of life. Most of the time now, I can do that. I did not do that before him.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- God puts people in our lives – loans them to us- to teach us things we may not otherwise bother to learn. Sometimes, it takes dire circumstances to learn the things we must, the things we should . It was so for me.

Thank you God for giving me a sweet reminder of You in my son, Micah.

Just Like the Theater Masks

theater masksFor some, bipolar disorder is entertaining. It is for me everytime I have a manic phase. Manic phases are like being hyperactive. It’s fun, exciting and everyone laughs. Then, the crash. Lower than low, tears flowing, keeping to yourself and isolation – not so entertaining It’s kind of like the theater masks you see from time to time. One minute laughing , one minute later- crying. It’s confusing not only to the family- but to the one afflicted with the disease.

Yesterday, I was as happy as a lark- having more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Today- not so much. It is rather curious to me how one’s brain can do that. How weird is it that one day, a person can be fine and the next- wake up lower than the digs of a snake?

I am fortunate in that it doesn’t happen as often as it used to. Oh my. Literally, my mood would change from minute to minute- hour to hour. No one knew what to expect. I would imagine it was very frightening to my family. Just when they thought they could kid around with me–I’d blow up or cry or scream. It’s a bit like watching the movie, Sybil. The lady who had so many different personalities and was finally integrated into one. The mind can play amazing games and tricks. But , it can protect one from the most hurtful and harmful things by wiping them from your memory. I am not clear on all or even some of the things that occurred while trying to find out I had bipolar disorder. My family will ask sometimes-“Do you remember when we did this or that?” And I cannot remember . It’s my brain’s way of protecting me from remembering the bad times or the times that hurt me the most.

One of those times, in particular , was my dad’s funeral. I know I was there. I don’t remember any of it. I couldn’t tell you anything about the funeral except they sang “How Great Thou Art.” I cried every time  I heard that song thereafter. I’m okay wih it now.

Anyway, should you know anyone who has bipolar, please know it is as hard on them as it is on you. Pray for them and for me. We need it!

Hate to say it, but…..

…..Hate to say it, but I hate Halloween. I know that doesn’t make me any too popular- especially since my good friend, Jackie Smith of Cemetery Tour fame – well, wrote Cemetery Tours, for heaven’s sake. She’s all about ghosts and stuff. Me? Well, I have to be honest… the thought just kinda freaks me out. Even though I lost my sanity years ago, if I allowed myself to think about ghosts and goblins and stuff like that, I’d become obsessed and then compulsively obsessed and then one thing would lead to another and paranoia and all manner of Ouija Board scares.

I had a Ouija Board scare once. It was my birthday- probably my 13th and I begged for a Ouija Board. My parents, against their better judgement, got one for me and I promptly called my neighbor, Julie, over.She was a year older, a year wiser, really cool and I was not all that at the age of 13. So, I felt pretty special with my new Ouija Board and my curiousity about the occult. She came over and we began our seance . I asked about boyfriends and stuff and then got a message I would die. I was SCARED TO DEATH! I cried all night that night. I’m not talking about crying on and off. No. I’m talking about being so upset that I cried nonstop until I got a spanking and Daddy promptly threw the Ouija Board in the trash and I never saw it again.

I truly believe the occult should not be messed around with by me. It bothers me and I just guess I’m too much of a scardy cat . I don’t see any reason to tempt any evil powers that be. I think I’ll just stick to God.

mine looked like this. gives me shivers!
mine looked like this. gives me shivers!

The Welcome Church

Okay, so over the weekend, there we were in Philly- a place I definately want to go back to when I have an opportunity. I didn’t see much and wanted to see it all- but there is only so much one can do and see while in a car. At any rate, the street church we were observing meets in the Parkway in front of the beautiful Family  Court Building there in Philadelphia. A grand backdrop, no doubt. Sadly, I took no photos as it would hinder the trust built up by the church for it’s people. Unhoused folks are very private individuals and trust must be built and maintained. Once lost, the damage is huge. The church comes to that location once a month. They serve coffee before the service and their liturgy is very close to ours.  The day we were there, there was someone serving donuts or other snackage in back of the Welcome Church and to the side, chicken was being served by the Baptist Church. Unlike our church, they met at 3 o’clock . The Gathering meets at  1:00.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, the wind whipping my hair around as if I were next to a fan.It was cool, brisk, really and I was wearing short sleeves. I began to get a little chilly, so I stood in the sun where the warmth covered my shoulders like a shawl. People gathered in a semi circle to try and hear the service in progress. We sang a song for the people that we were taught only the night before.It was a lot of fun to do.After the Eucharist, people lingered about  a bit as if they, too , were gathering the warmth I felt. It was an amazing experience and I was so glad I went.

I love the street church. I always feel humbled afterward and blessed throughout. If you have never been to a church for the housed and unhoused, it is an experience everyone should have. Google churches for the homeless or unhoused in your area and see what you are missing. When you visit, I can guarantee you will be blessed and feel humbled. I can just about guess that you’d never worshipped God quite that way before. But, watch out- it’s a blessing that is addictive and that, my friend, is a wonderful thing!

Learning Church Without Walls- Come and See Weekend

Our flight into Philly landed about 3 in the afternoon -Friday. After obtaining a rental car, we were off to the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. We started out about 3.30 p.m and reached our destination through many neighborhoods, roads -twists and turns via Lyn’s telephone GPS. Why the GPS didn’t lead us through the main thoroughfares, no one knows. It led us off the highway and into the abyss that are the streets of Philly. Tourists with no idea where we were going. A true adventure , if I ever saw one. Frustration mounted as the GPS led us from one turn to another. Something was said, someone cried. Everyone tired.

Eventually, we got to the Best Western where Lyn and Tom checked in and then by 6 o’clock to the Seminary for the conference on serving an unhoused and housed communities. Some people may call the population we serve homeless. They may be without houses, but they always have a home within the church and with God.

The first night of the “come and see” was a time of getting to know the others, finding out where in the United States they were from and what their ministry entailed and dinner. Oh my. Dinner. Real Philly Cheesesteaks, Real Philly pizza, Real Philly pretzels. I was in heaven and had not even died yet! A glass of wine to top it off and I was set to go. It was a wonderful evening, but I was exhausted. Knowing how difficult it is for me to be civil while exhausted, I went to my room and got ready for bed- hung out -being mostly quiet- well, except for calling my husband and daughter.

It was a very quiet night for me – no howling coyotes, no howling, barking dogs , braying donkeys-the music  of my soul-nothing but quiet. I had to get out of bed , turn on the music and begin walking in place and then around the room for a few  minutes. I read my facebook and email and finally fell asleep.

Saturday morning, we had interesting  and challenging sessions with topics such as focusing on criminal justice, social enterprise, trauma and the subject of racism, homophobia and sexism in our congregations. A key to being able to serve your congregation in a way that benefits them best is to know them. Know who they are, what they have been through and then you can sort out how best to help them.

It’s Sunday now and today, we will go to the parkway in Philadelphia at 3 and worship with the people of the Welcome Church. I know it will be a great experience and I can’t wait. I have found a passion in this ministry such as I have never had before for or in church. I guess I have just found my niche.

In the next post, I will be writing about the service and the plane ride home! Have a mahvelous day!10359221_10203767165234526_5540952237518008767_n (1)1779976_10203767164954519_1900002060732461418_n

seeing Philly from the car.
seeing Philly from the car.

Writing is like a Prayer

just say what you mean.
just say what you mean.

“To write is to pray.”- Paula Walker Baker- yep, I think I made that up all by myself- just now as I thought about what I was going to write.

I wonder if you have ever read blogs or stories in which the language is flowery, using unnecessary words, phrases, cliches or what have you? Well, I have and I have heard people who pray in that same language.

Me? Well, I like to write like I talk. I don’t want any pretense when I write- just want a good conversation piece- even if it is only with myself.

We had a guy at a church I attended once who would pray frequently. I guess the pastor loved his prayers, because he was called on an awful lot- but I found them boring, flowery and somewhat presumptious. Because I was a teenager, I wondered to anyone who would listen why this man insisted on praying like that. I mean, doesn’t God know what you mean to say? Doesn’t He already know our hearts and isn’t He just waiting for us to come to Him and tell Him our issues or requests in our own words, sans flowery agenda. No, when I write, it may not be in the “correct ” form for – say- an English teacher- maybe not even for a publisher- but it is the correct form for me.

I like writing like I talk. I realize that folks who don’t know me have no idea how I sound- where my inflections are or if there is any inflection. Maybe they think me monotone. But, I get the idea they know from how I write what I mean. If I want to say something, dadgum it, I’m just going to say it. I don’t want to pussyfoot around it. I just want to say it and have done with it. And I have done so- many times! And when I pray, I want to speak to God in easy conversations. It’s difficult for some of us, me included sometimes to pray. When I go to God, I don’t want to complicate it with a lot of words I may not be sure of the meaning. What’s the point in that? No, I want to say, “Hey God, help me with this deal. I’ve tried to figure out how to handle it and I’m at a loss. So, I need your help now. Oh and if You could see Your way clear to heal (insert name here), I sure would appreciate it. I’m kinda scared and I need You to help me out there. Thank you and forgive me of my sins.  Amen.”  That’s it -done. No flowery words, no what-not. I think He gets it.

pray  simply; easily
pray simply; easily

Do you?

Mission Trips-Send Your Kids and They Will Never Forget It

A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Stephen and I decided to invite a few of the homeless people we knew who had a been working and trying to better their situations to our house for a brisket dinner. The clergy, and other leaders came as well and we all had a great time eating, playing with the animals and just hanging out.

I want to go back a bit and say that David and Micah and their sister Amanda, always went on mission trips as youth in the church. It’s always a useful and productive thing to send your kids on mission trips to teach them compassion, empathy and learn how to help and love people who often feel unloved, unworthy. I always thought it was a good thing, but never really thought about actually seeing the fruits of the mission trips themselves. That’s because I’d seen it in subtle ways- nothing like I was about to experience the day of the cookout.

Stephen and I went to church down at Thanksgiving Square- Ervay and Pacific in Dallas, as usual. After church, we had to wait until the chairs were put away, the musicians put away their instruments and we sorted out who was riding with who. Once all that was done, we were on our way to the farm. Once we got there, David, his wife Natalie, Micah and his wife, Laura had continued to prepare dinner and it was ready to put on plates. The kids served our guests without hesitation and kept them at ease and comfortable.

Chris, the music guy at church,brought out his guitar and we all starting singing old songs- “horse with no name” and other such oldies, songs with gestures, fun songs to sing. I looked up to see that the kids were making plates for our guests to take for dinner that night. As our guests left, the kids handed the plates to them, one by one. Kinda like Jesus did-exactly like Jesus did.

I was almost brought to tears. My children took what they had learned on their mission trips- how to be more like Jesus- and was applying it now- right this minute! What a beautiful thing to see. They did it with such grace, compassion and empathy. I have never been more proud of the kids, never loved them quite as much as I did in that moment, and was never so humbled by my own children.

So, if you can send your kids on mission trips, do it by all means. Oh my gosh, the rewards they and you will reap and the blessings that go with all that are almost more than you can stand.

Later on, Natalie smiled and said, “i’m tired.”  I smiled back and said, “it’s a good tired, though, isn’t it?” She smiled and nodded her head.

It’s just a little piece of heaven in an otherwise cruel world.

What Happens at Walmart….

walmart

It all started Sunday afternoon when my son and my husband set up a swimming pool at our house. It’s one of those pools with a pump – not very deep, but just about the whole neighborhood could fit in it. Kinda like a huge spa. “Redneck Riviera” – that’s what Stephen calls it. 

like he says, "Redneck Riviera"
“Redneck Riviera”

I wanted to try out our new toy, but realized I had no swimming suit. Grabbing my coin purse, my keys and my flip flops, I was out the door on my way to Walmart. My son and daughter in law coming toward me got a quick hug and kiss and I asked if she wanted to go with me. She declined. I would too. Who wants to spend a Sunday afternoon at Walmart ,of all places! 

I had a simple plan. Run in, get a swimsuit, run out, get home, jump in the pool and relax. But it was Walmart and a Sunday afternoon-school supply weekend, of all things. Anyway, I didn’t find much in the way of swimsuits. Picked up some swimsuit bottoms and a few pair of scrubs and I was off to the self-checkout. As I put my clothes down, panic ensued after realizing my coin purse was not with me anymore. Where could it be? Where did I drop it? I didn’t feel myself drop it. Did I lay it down somewhere? My debit cards were in it, over two hundred dollars was in it – farrier money for my horse’s shoes, my drivers license and donor card- my whole life was in it! I combed the store- went back to every place I had been -all to no avail. Customer service had not had anything turned in and the ladies I asked out on the floor- employees, you know- were less than interested in helping me look.”I haven’t seen a coin purse, but then I wasn’t looking for one either,” one said with a bit of a whine in her voice. Whatever. I called my husband, panicking and crying. “There’s over two hundred dollars in there for Rigo, ” hearing myself whining now. “Just come home – there’s nothing you can do now. It’ll be ok.”  I left the building, grateful I had my car keys at least and praying my coin purse would be found.

Once at home, I decided not to dwell on the whole thing. I felt stupid for losing it. I mean, how could I drop it and not know? Or maybe set it down somewhere and walk off? That’s just dumb. (I can hear my mother saying it now! )

The next morning, I had to get ready for work early and decided to stop by Walmart. I went straight to customer service, finding for once, no line. I explained my plight and one of the ladies went into the office to check for my coin purse. In just one minute, out she came with my purse! I was so relieved. I opened it immediately to see if anything was still in there and lo and behold all my money was there, my debit cards- everything! Tears filled my eyes as I looked to the woman and said, “My money is still there. ” She said, “See, not everyone is bad” and smiled a sweet, genuine smile. 

In a bit of a stupor, I was able to push the button on my telephone and call my husband. He was as amazed as I .  Normally, I might say “What happens at Walmart should stay at Walmart.” But, i think this time, it should be told.

Thanks to the lady at Walmart and thanks be to God for answering prayer.