Pray First, Prayer, Psalms

Praise The Lord

Praise The Lord
With awkward beauty
With good intentions
With well-meant gestures

Praise The Lord
With technical difficulties
With endless set-up
With incorrect hymn boards

Praise The Lord
With stiff hands
With tear-filled eyes
With worried mind

Praise The Lord
With open heart
With smiling face
With hopeful spirit

Praise The Lord!

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After a prompt from Writing to God, by the wonderful Rachel Hackenberg.

I admit that I am several days behind in the book. The prompt for Day 10 took me in this direction when I read these particular verses and conflated them with a dream about a worship service, beautifully envisioned but awkwardly executed — a glimpse at the heavenly banquet complete with showered rose petals, but a long delay before Communion to reset the stage including the hymn boards — and woke to stiff hands reminding me of my own technical difficulties as I seek how I will serve God next.

Psalm 147:10-11 God doesn’t prize the strength of a horse; God doesn’t treasure the legs of a runner. No. The Lord treasures the people who honor him, the people who wait for his faithful love.

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Pray First, Prayer

Great Maker and Baker

Photo by Rev. Holly Smith
Meanwhile, we are making mice.

Great Maker and Baker,
You set a table wide and long enough for all people.

However we look,
wherever we live,
whoever we love,
You welcome us.

We come through the doorway of Your house and sit in the room without walls.

We feel the warm breeze of your inspiriting breath.

The light of Your stars plays around us.

Your moon glints off the water.

The music of all beauty spreads beyond Your roof, encircling the world.

We greet old friends and embrace new ones.

We thread needles, cast on, draw fresh conclusions.

We pass the salt and butter the rolls.

We share Your goodness with each other.

We give our love.

We give our thanks to the One who made us.

(Another response to a prompt from Rachel Hackenberg. Grateful for last week.)

Orientation, Pray First, Prayer, Thanks

Thank you, thank you, thank you

This happies me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
This happies me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I give thanks every morning

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

For the ways You move me, Lord,
Pushing me into the open

For the ways You have redeemed me,
Breaking open all the doors

For the new way You show me,
Leading past where I can see

I give thanks every night

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you

(A psalm, after a prompt from the marvelous and amazing Rachel Hackenberg, at the RevGalBlogPals Big Event 6.0.)
Church Life, Crazy Busy, Learned From My Mother, Pray First, Prayer

The To Do List

My mother used to write them out in longhand, her beautiful penmanship rising above the mundane nature of the lists. She wrote of groceries needed, or projects she hoped to accomplish, or books she planned to read. She wrote in pencil, knowing that the tasks ahead of her might change and the list might need revising.

I type lists in the “Notes” function on my iPhone, because I can email them to myself, or know they will be with me when I arrive at Maine Hardware or Trader Joe’s. The icon taking me to it looks like a tiny, little yellow legal pad, and when the app opens, the screen looks like one, too. Just like my mother, I can edit easily, as changes warrant, but instead of striking through or checking off the things I’ve completed, I simply backspace over them until they disappear.

Some lists I still write by hand, though, and those are full of line-throughs and amendments, sometimes in pencil and other times in eccentric colors of thinline markers. I’m working from one right now, trying to use my four days of Study Leave the best possible way. As always, there is plenty to do and more:

1) Write three sermon review articles for a preaching publication
2) Write a new Christmas Pageant, hopefully involving the well the Sunday School is building
3) Read a short book for the worship class I’m teaching at Bangor Theological Seminary, to be discussed the Monday after I return
4) Write a sermon! I’ll need one to preach when I get back. 🙂

In and among all the projects on my list, there weaves a whisper reminding me to pray:

•Pray before writing.
•Pray before reading.
•Pray to be open.
•Pray to be inspired.
•Pray to get the words right, if not perfect.
•Pray to be faithful to God’s purposes.

I think I might need to put it at the top of the list:

Pray. A lot.

What’s on the top of your to do list?

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Pray First, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Pray First, Snooze Alarm edition

My “pray first” idea, or at least the first thing in the morning expression of it, has been blown right out of the water by having a medication change that is part of my treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. In response to doing very well on a new medication (Humira), an older one (methotrexate) was cut in half. Since the older one has all sorts of bad side effects, being on the smallest dose possible is desirable, and I understood at the time it was changed that we might need to increase the dose again, splitting the difference. After the first week, it was clear I was worse, and I called the doctor, and the dose will go up again, but not until Sunday.

Meanwhile, I’m frustrated by awaking fatigued, stiff and sore instead of rested and ready to pray. There’s an impact on the rest of my day, too, but the key here where prayer is concerned is the way I feel when the alarm goes off, as it does every day, at 6 a.m. Regular prayer on waking had become the foundation for my day, a conversation with God that got my inner house in order. The snooze alarm on my iPhone helped me keep track of the morning; now it’s the only thing assuring I am really awake in time to wake LP.

It’s my hope this is a temporary flurry of symptoms, not the onset of a flare. I’m looking at it that way. I fully expect that things will improve after the 3/4 dose begins to take effect. But meanwhile it’s clear how much a new and very simple discipline had been helping me, simply taking a little time before waking my daughter, and walking my dog, and checking email on my phone, simply taking a little time to talk to God.

The key is to really wake up, and to the extent that my bedtime can help with that, I will make my own changes, but some of this is just how chemicals and my immune system interact, and with that, I will have to be patient. And, perhaps, prayerful.

All the Single Ladies, Church Life, Pray First

Variety

One of the things I love about ministry is that every day is different. Sometimes that means a long day, such as the one I had yesterday. After time spent in the office in the morning working on our new website and visiting with the people rolling out pie bottoms for our Chicken Pie Sale, I took off for a meeting to the north, driving with a friend and colleague and catching up on things that matter to both of us. We saw other faithful UCC people from around Maine and worked together on plans for our Conference Annual Meeting in June. We drove back later in the afternoon, and I stayed around North Yarmouth to meet with the Trustees last night.

All of which is to say I left the house at 7:45 a.m. to take LP to school, and I got home again around 9 p.m.

And there was still one thing on my to-do list: a Stewardship letter.

At that point, the variety of my day added up to physical tiredness that overpowered my ability to think straight, much less cleverly. I knew I needed a hook for the letter, and I knew the letter needed to be printed, folded and stuffed into envelopes this morning.

So, I prayed.

There are varieties of prayers, some more articulate than others. Sometimes it’s better just to listen. And when I did listen? I got my hook, thankfully.

Today also contains great variety. I rose early and wrote the letter. At the office we figured out how to get it onto adorable UCC stationery. I signed each one. Now the letter is all set, labeled and stamped by my marvelous Administrative Assistant, ready to be mailed by a diligent Trustee tomorrow. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, people rolled pie tops and pies were assembled for pick-up this afternoon.

Now at the end of the day, many pies have gone home for people’s dinner. I’ve sat over coffee with a friend and colleague hoping to solve the woes of the world. Phone calls and emails have been exchanged, on topics as varied as parking for wedding receptions, plans for the RevGals’ Big Event and my new haircut. And soon I will head home again, with a pie and a pint of gravy to put in the freezer for a night when I am not the only one at home.

After two days of face time, I’m okay with an evening tucked up on the couch. But if you should call me, I promise to answer the phone.

All the Single Ladies, I Sing the Body Electric, Pray First

All Yours

This week I went for an annual physical, and I had that mammogram I mentioned the other day, and then the next day I got a call saying they needed to take some more pictures, and oh by the way it needed to be an appointment right next to an ultrasound appointment, just in case.

It’s been a hard few months, and I will admit that I sunk to the floor, even though this was not bad news, actually, only a request to have me come in and give them a chance to get more clarity. But in this era of being afraid to wonder “what’s next?” it felt like hard information to take in, emotionally or intellectually.

Over the next two days I told a few friends, employed avoidance/denial as a spiritual practice, cooked soup and baked muffins from scratch, wielded a shovel with unexpected power and wrote a sermon.

Today, I went for the second mammogram, and I had to admit I was terrified. Suppose something was actually wrong with me? I have a new job and I’m newly divorced and I live alone with a teenager and I have no family in the area and  not a long list of the kinds of friends locally who would see you through a crisis because I stopped being a regular person when I became a pastor and became all about my work and my friends are also clergy who work too many hours and…

then I was standing in the dressing room in a gown, waiting. And I prayed.

“I’m all yours. No matter what. I’m grateful to be alive and grateful for the love I have in my life. I’m all yours.”‘

It should not be amazing how much better I felt after that. I mean, I am a pastor. I am living a committed spiritual life. Not that the two necessarily go together, but I’d like to think they do for me. Mostly. But I am so easily spun off my stem, so ready to throw my own petals onto the fire and send myself up into smoke, when there is no need.

It felt good to stop that and pray.

Various new views were taken, in an attempt to get a better view of a suspicious area that might be nothing. The technician was fabulous, explaining exactly what we were doing, as if we were teammates in this effort, which was basically to compress the tissue (aiyiyi!!!) exactly right in case all they had seen was a wrinkle or something, in hopes that the wrinkle or something would clearly not be there after all.

I sat in the dressing room waiting, surprisingly calm, wondering if it was better or worse for her to come back quickly. Did it resemble how long a jury stayed out? I thought about the many women in my new church family who are breast cancer survivors. I thought about how they are thriving, in fact. I thought about how bad news doesn’t have to be the end of the world and wondered why I always assume it will be? I thought all this in an oddly calm fashion, for me.

Then she reappeared, smiling, and said, I kid you not, “Yay!!! We made it go away!!!”

I had to listen hard to understand what she was saying, but then I smiled, too. 
And I prayed the same words again. “I’m all yours.” And then, “Thank you.” And I thought, it’s not in my belief system to believe that God would make something wrong suddenly disappear while we were taking more pictures today, but I feel just as grateful as if that had happened exactly. 
(Not a picture of me, or my technician, but you get the idea. And weirdly, this was the poem on Writer’s Almanac today: Mammogram.)