Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Old Fish Bones and Bent Puppy Dog Tails
Peggy Mack
January 14, 2014

I wish you all could have been with me at Belin Memorial United Methodist Church.  It was one of those gorgeous Sunday mornings on the inlet and marsh where a cool crisp breeze is blowing gently as the warm sun warms our backs.  The congregation is growing so quickly that the ushers have to bring in dozens of folding chairs to serve as extra seating while this little ultra conservative congregation literally battles over whether or not a contemporary worship service is part of its future.  There's also been quite a feud over the need to replace the old organ (on its last leg).  A group of "elder and influential" members who have supported the church for decades have become quite adamant about their dislike over either.  Meanwhile the church is bursting at the seams and the organ was straining to produce music. 

When we entered the church Sunday a large roll of black plastic was draped behind the altar on the wall where the organ once resided.  Time has moved on and the new organ is being built in Pennsylvania and will be delivered the first week of February.  Preparations to make room for it have already begun.   Meanwhile, we have no organ and I wondered with the pews overflowing if we would be able to even hear the piano well enough to sing our hymns.  Then, I wondered if the choir would sing an anthem.  The choir in recent months has been somewhat lack luster and unenthused.  Now, with no organ, I silently wondered if we should have come to worship.

The chimes rang and I whispered a prayer for God to be with us in this place of worship.  I asked God to bless all those gathered to worship Him and asked that he be present in our hearts and minds.  The service began and I was pleased the piano had been amplified well so those in the far back pews and even seated in the Narthex could hear well enough to follow in the singing.  It was becoming a lovely service after all.
Time came for the congregation to be seated and the choir to stand.  That is when I noticed the choir appeared to have grown in numbers.  There seemed to be forty or fifty members in their robes.  Then an amazing music recording began and my heart soared. You see, years ago I became an "undercover" contemporary Christian.  The music speaks to my heart and the experience is wonderful.  I know the power of this "newfangled" concept of worship and am hoping our church continues to work toward adding it as part of their Sunday morning services.  The music intro. was playing and my heart felt a burst of joy.  As the song continued to build, I can best describe it by comparing it to baseball, I can only say the choir knocked it out of the ball park.  Their voices were perfect and strong.  Their faces were lights of joy.  I was overwhelmed with the message in its words and I knew I was about to blast out one of those loud, messy ugly cries because I could no longer hold in all my joy and emotion.  I was hemmed in on both sides on my pew with no way to move anywhere.  I kept hearing the message return in the chorus, "All of my past has been erased, nothing ahead but amazing grace.....I've been changed!" No truer words have ever danced inside my heart!  I resorted to an old trick to save myself from embarrassment by bursting into ugly tears.  As the choir kept building on the chorus, repeating those precious words, changing keys and building to a crescendo and finale, I was secretly whispering, "Old fish bones and crooked puppy tales".  Ha, ha, ha!  I laugh out loud now thinking of what I had to resort to but my friends, those old fish bones and crooked puppy tales helped force me to concentrate on something other than the sheer power of the music in the church and kept me from making a fool of myself on a perfect Sunday morning.

What followed was even more amazing in this tiny, ultra conservative, does not like changes, congregation steeped in tradition and clinging to the good old days.  The broke forth into a glorious round of applause for "I've Been Changed"!  What a morning!  What an experience!  But the blessings have not ended there for me.

You see, I have carried the burden of guilt for two "unforgivable" sins for dozens of years and while I knew logically God forgives our sins, I had not experienced total, freeing forgiveness.  

Since Sunday, the phrase "all of my past has been erased", keeps ringing in my mind and playing in my heart.  The image of those two events in my life being erased from my soul has been so freeing and so complete. 
This morning in gratitude, I realized there were others I had not completely forgiven.  Oh sure, I had come to a place of logical understanding and had no ill will toward them but the hurt remained.  I thought of the two instances where others deeply and repeatedly hurt me and I erased their sins from my heart.  The past has been erased.  Their trespasses against me are forgiven.  The burden of dragging my own guilt and hanging on to their hurtful ways are gone.  Now, in their dark and heavy corner has come light and hope and joy. The transformation was immediate. 

It all began with a song in a tiny church on the inlet facing the marsh on a perfect Sunday morning.

Dear Heavenly Father,
What joy is ours when we release the burdens of old hurtful memories caused by ourselves and others!  We praise your name and although we cannot understand your power, we know nothing can separate us from you!  Nothing is ahead of us but amazing grace and your endless love.  We are so blessed and remain in a place of gratitude.
In Jesus' Name,

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Peace

New Year's Peace
Peggy Mack
January 1, 2014

A new year has dawned for us all.  For me, it began quietly and quite early.  I took Rooney for a first morning walk and realized the day promised to be damp and grey with rain, arriving in the late afternoon or early evening.

No matter how we tried to bundle in warm clothing, share morning coffee by the fireplace or even, pull out and crawl under a favorite blanket, we felt the chill.   Instead of the expected joy and anticipation of the new year filled with new joys and memories, my heart seemed to beat with a steady melancholy rhythm.  My thoughts wanted to linger with those no longer here on Earth whom I continue to miss daily.  I made a concerted effort to redirect my thoughts to a place of gratitude and positive goal making for 2014, but in spite of my efforts, a silent blanket of sadness wrapped itself securely around my heart.  I wondered how our human nature has a flaw for creating thoughts, independently of our own wishes, that seem to weigh us down.

As we rode through town to run a few errands, we noticed the totally empty streets.  They added to the emptiness I had been feeling all morning.  As we rode, I prayed.  I simply found the words to say, "I do not understand why sadness fills me today, Lord, but it is here.  I ask you to love me through this and redirect my thoughts."

Another year has arrived without my mom and dad, their brothers and sisters and our grandparents.  The list seems endless and grows as we age and grow closer to our own destiny.  We continued with our check list of things we needed to do today. 
I began hearing lines from one of my favorite hymns.  I learned it from listening to Emmy Lou Harris' rendition.

Where can I go?
Oh where can I go, seeking the refuge for my soul?
Needing a friend to help me to the end,
Where can I go but to the Lord?

Again, I prayed.  "God, this sadness that blankets my heart will not leave me.  Grief has come, again, uninvited and unexpected.  It arrived with the early morning.  Comfort me and all those who feel great sadness today.  Families are searching for missing loved ones.  Prayers are being whispered for those who linger near death.  Others have recently had to whisper goodbye to someone they love.  Only you can feel our sadness.  Only you can dry our tears.  Only you can comfort those who cannot push grief away.  Amen"
We arrived home and I crawled up under my favorite electric lap blanket in my recliner and near the front window.  I continued my study of Romans, "Understanding God's Grace and Power."  My mind seemed to wander as I struggled to absorb the lesson on Chapters 9-11.

Within a few moments, I dosed off into a welcomed sleep, a respite for my heart, mind and soul.  When I woke, the day had not changed.  The cold, damp, greay day continues outside my window and winter's chill insists on creeping inside the walls of our home. 
When I woke from my "senior nap" my thoughts were calm.  I found myself thinking about a package I need to mail to Allison tomorrow and what time we will have dinner this evening.  The difference came in my immediate sense of calm and peace and even a sweet joy!  I sense a smile at this totally unexplainable shift in my mindset as I walk in faith.

The blanket of sadness no longer holds me in a thought pattern of grief for those I can no longer hold in my arms.  Yes, I miss them, as always.  But God has brought me gifts of comfort and peace.  I am able to gather my thoughts and write, which l love to do, with a sense that God heard my prayers.  My dad and mom used to love to address my youthful dilemmas with, "This too shall pass!"  My response was a deep sigh  followed by frustration when they did not solve life's problems for me.   Now, I am smiling, realizing their wisdom.  So often we want life to immediately adjust itself to our needs, but that will not happen.  I see, once again, my parents wisdom.  

The sadness I felt this morning has passed.  God has replaced it with peace and joy and hope and contentment.  I look forward to a blessed and wonderful new year filled with challenges and rewards.  I anticipate wonderful opportunities to continue my growth in faith.  What lies ahead for me in 2014?  I do not know, for certain.  But I find my peace in God.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

Dear Heavenly Father,
I am more aware each day how you listen to our prayers throughout our day.  You know the plans for our future and you shelter us in your loving comfort, peace and grace.  We have nothing to fear in your love for you are always with us.
In Jesus' Name,