More on 2021

I rarely get inspired for “a word” or theme for the year. This year, as I sat on my front porch for morning devotions, I got a word, a theme, a message (the birds flocking), and recommitment for a year long breath prayer, written by my dear friend @jedipastorken.

My word is LIVE. As opposed to my normal mode of SURVIVAL. To LIVE is to have fun, be filled with joy, and expect blessings. In survival mode, I waited for the shoe to drop. I fretted about what would go wrong next. I prepared for my body and soul for hard times. Where did that get me? I survived alright. But what about living, thriving, being grateful, relying on God? This is a much better way to live, and I imagine much better to be around.

My theme comes from words of a very inspiring song. I am a huge fan of singer Liz Vice, an American gospel music recording artist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Her music career started in 2015, with the studio album, There’s a Light. What an amazing voice. Her song, Refugee King is a great song for after Christmas. But it was the title song from her first album that sparked a vision for me:

There’s a light in my life shining over me
There’s a light in my life shining over me
Let your blessings from above fill me with that precious love
There’s a light in my life shining over me

Songwriters: James Lee / Shirley Lee There’s a Light lyrics © Dust Index, Covertly Canadian Publishing

If I truly believe that there is a light shining over me, then how will I LIVE? I will live with JOY, gratitude, and a ruthless trust (a stubborn irrefutable certainty that God is with us – Brennan Manning).

And lastly, my breath prayer that I hope to breathe life into:

Jesus be real to me, live in me and be seen through me.

It’s simple, it’s inspiring, and it is the only way I can be the best of myself. Lord, let it be.

Words and birds for 2021

Morning devotions on my front porch is what I love. It has been too cold or windy quite often, but today it was warm enough. The birds are loud this morning. You can hear a large number all around, and occasionally see a swarm of birds moving together.

Here are a few gleanings about flocks of birds from Google.

  • The presence and well-being of birds reflects the health of the environment; they share every ecosystem with us, playing the role of hunter and prey, pollinators, scavengers, and dispersers of seeds. Feeding the spirit, they signify strength, courage and freedom.
  • As they fly, the starlings in a murmuration seem to be connected together. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice.
  • The mathematical odds that a bird will get eaten are smaller when the flock is larger. A large flock also promotes greater feeding efficiency because the birds share information about food sources
  • A flock is a gathering of a group of same species animals in order to forage or travel with one another.
  • Tight-knit flocks of birds perched together at night also offer warmth against winter chill. Blackbirds are cooperating with each other, no matter their differences, in order to provide food for the entire group and to provide for the common defense.
  • “Birds of a feather flock together” has been around in the English language since the mid-1500s. When applied to people, this phrase means that people who are similar to each other or share similar interests tend to spend time with each other.
  • Crows are good environmental citizens also transport and store seeds, thus contributing to forest renewal.
  • Crows gather in large numbers to communicate food sources and to establish breeding partners for the spring.
  • group of crows is called a murder and people seem to associate these corvids with death and darkness. But crows are very social creatures and at this time of year they often flock together by the thousands for warmth, safety, and, possibly, convivial conversation.

We are part of His body, not divided, not in groups opposing each other, but together. He wants us to live together in community to protect each other and build each other up. God created us for relationship with Him, first and foremost, and then with each other.

So here is what I have learned:

  • There is strength in numbers.
  • We need each other.
  • We are communal and meant to work together.
  • The Church needs to flock together. We have felt the effects of being apart and isolated, but we can still work together, and must work together to proclaim the Gospel and continue His ministry.
  • Working together means all God’s people working together.

Happy 2021.

Your servants are listening, speak Lord to our souls.

Hope is alive

Yesterday I read this one Christians’ scripture and thoughts about Covid-19:

Deuteronomy 28:58-60 NAS

“If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses. And He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.” 

His comment:  “Folks, we do not need to brag how we are going to get through this. We need to get on our knees, repent of our sins as a nation, and ask God to heal our land.”

Pretty harsh. I know I posted earlier this week my own scripture quote that God will use this for His good, and I found myself defending a more hopeful outlook such as:

Deuteronomy 31:6

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I do cling to a God of Hope who sent His son to die for us for the forgiveness of sins.  And I know there is a time to be humble and call on our God and come before Him with honor and reverence.  We worship a mighty God.  Let His name be exalted.  And then call on Him with your prayers and supplications.

So I don’t think my fellow Christian is wrong.  And it’s not necessary to argue or debate.   The God of the Old Testament does seem vengeful.  Our Good Father wants us to trust and obey.  But that isn’t the end of the story.  There is a time and place for everything.  And our God is merciful and we can have Hope because of Him.

John 16:33 New International Version (NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Romans 5:3-5 New International Version (NIV)

Not only so, but we  also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Amen and Thank you Jesus

A Blessed Conversation

A few weeks ago I was part of a blessed conversation and I don’t want to forget it or take it for granted. Several months ago I started attending a local group in Cartersville called Bartow Diversity. This group has been meeting for over 10 years, working for a positive future for the community.

Recently the group has been learning about the Toni Morrison Society and involvement in Cartersville due to it being the hometown of her father, George Wofford. Toni Morrison was a Nobel Prize Winner for her novel Beloved, about post civil war freed slaves trying to start over. The book was later made into a movie starring Oprah Winfrey.

While Morrison [was} “not a southerner, the South, and even Georgia, are all over her books. While we may not exactly claim the Nobel Laureate of Literature as a Georgia writer, Morrison has significant Georgia roots and so, too, do many of her characters.”*

George Wofford did not have beautiful memories of his life in Georgia, and certainly didn’t want to raise his children there. And yet the Southern roots of her parents, and their stories, certainly made an impact.

Racism, oppression, prejudicial treatment, and even public lynchings in the early 1900’s affected one generation into another, and still leaves a bitter taste, if not lasting challenges for reconciliation.

So our last meeting in February, 2020, was a planned small group discussion centered around the lasting impact of slavery and current experiences about racial diversity and reconciliation. “How do our nation’s history and your own experience impact your feelings/views and participation in racial diversity and reconciliation?

After opening business, we split into small groups of three or four people. My group of three included a young adult black male, an almost empty nester white woman, and a white grandmother. That right there was a blessing to have the perspectives of different generations.  Opening comments began in gratefulness to just sit and listen and share with one another.  Conversations can build trust so that truthfulness can be told in love and less animosity.

Shortly afterwards, the young gentleman had to leave just as an adult black woman arrived to take his spot.  All three of us quickly bonded and shared stories from our own ancestry and memories. Our discussion moved from civil war, to women’s rights, to the civil rights movement. We each shared different viewpoints of attending school before integration, shortly after integration, and clearly after integration.

Before too long, we ran out of time. We could have talked a lot longer. Being born in the South during the Civil Rights movement, I discovered that there were many issues and events that were never discussed due to denial or shame.   My generation is older than Black History Month, and my History classes never got to twentieth century history past World War II.I merged into integrated environments in my high school and college years, but find that I need to make an effort to participate in integrated groups if I want to learn and grow in diversity.

If I want to move past an “us and them” viewpoint, it is up to me to put myself out there, listen to other voices, expand my limited perception of one sidedness, and call on my God who made and loves all people to open my eyes to His will.

Three southern women seeking to live in love and unity according to God’s plan. It begins with a conversation.   It is never too late.

Back to My Roots

It was a chilly, rainy day, last October, but I was so looking forward to the craft show. There would be artisans and crafters along with local music performers and food.   The Chiaha Harvest Fair is an annual arts festival at Ridge Ferry Park in Rome, Georgia, United States. It takes place on the banks of the Oostanaula River with profits going towards supporting art education in the Rome and Floyd County area.

I was drawn to this event for several reasons.  I enjoy looking at and supporting local artists.  Being able to support art education is a definite bonus.  I’m always up for trying local foods!   And a new band I had discovered would be performing.

Even the rain, mostly annoying sprinkling, couldn’t keep me away.

There was another bonus in that the event was at Ridge Ferry Park, which used to be a part of the Chieftain estate, property of John Ridge, Chief of the Cherokee Indians.  My 4th great grandfather and family lived in that house after the Trail of Tears. I am named after my 3rd great grandmother, Susan Verdery, who grew up in that house. The family managed several hundred acres for farming. The land of Ridge Ferry park was part of the Chieftain House property that the Verdery family farmed.

In her later years, Susan published a short story of fiction that contained some factual details about her family as they lived at Chieftains. In the story Susan gives nod to her love and appreciation for literature, along with expressing her faith and belief in God’s love for all people, including the Indians banished from their home and the slaves who served the family and helped them prosper. Though she grew up in a time of disharmony and oppression among people, it is her understanding of a gracious God who wants unity and love, that guides her story and her heart.  I can picture little Susan walking around the gardens, skipping down the rows of crops.

If Susan could speak about living in peace, having compassion for others, appreciating our differences, yet committed to harmony in a time where that message may not be well received or appreciated, then I could certainly tell her story, and try to revive and live her message in my life.  She has left a legacy for me that I feel called and compelled to continue.

The band that I was following is Kindred Fire, a young talented guitar duo combining their talents and eclectic music tastes into “Swamp-stomping roots music.”*  Listening to them perform is refreshing and energizing.    As I set in Ridge Ferry park, listening to Kindred Fire perform on the stage, I felt connected to my roots.  The space of that outdoor concert stage may very well be the place where Susan walked.

Just as I was listening to the music, enjoying this mystical reconnection in time, I heard the words “back to my roots”. For real. Kindred Fire was performing a song written by band member Haley Smith.  She sings about returning to a time when she first believed…a time when she saw the light.

Though the rain continued, my heart and soul will forever be blessed in remembering that day of connection…with roots, with great music, local artists, and with a world where everything is connected and God continues to inspire and renew a calling to live in peace and kindness.

 

A rewarding experience

Recently on my day off, I ran errands in my town.   I went to the library, grabbed some lunch and then went to Thursday Bible Study at Unity Worship Church. Cartersville.   I had been introduced to the pastor online via a new connection from the “Be the Bridge” book release.   Pastor Sebastian Holley, PhD, is the lead pastor and founder of the church that meets in a storefront.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but blessed to be among a welcoming community who love the Lord and are committed to grow in their faith.

The Bible study was lesson 12 from a study written by Dr. Holley called “Faith Identity:  Living your truth by connecting to The Truth”.    I wasn’t sure if I could jump in right in the middle, but I rediscovered that God meets us where we are.  All I can say is, if the rest of the book is as intense as Chapter 12, brace yourself!

The lesson is titled “Repentance Rewarded” and through this teaching, I see a new perspective to living in hopefulness and joy in walking with the Lord, even when facing hard things.

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:1-2

At one time I might have interpreted this scripture to mean “get right with God or you will burn in hell!”   That is one way to take in this reading.    Another way, is to take joy in knowing a reward is coming.  Celebrate our God of forgiveness and live in the hope that comes from trusting in Him.

In this attempt to summarize what I learned and examine scripture, I am also combining my study of works from Emmanuel Swedenborg, a scientist in the 1700’s who wrote about his religious experiences and beliefs.    I learned about Swedenborg from an obituary on my 3rd great grandfather that stated that he and his wife, Susan  “became students of Emmanuel Swedenburg’s writing and enjoyed the wonderful spiritual and intellectual uplift which such study gives to a seeker after true religion.”

In his work True Christianity (§528), Emmanuel Swedenborg lists four steps to active repentance: examine yourself, recognize and admit your sins, pray to the Lord, and begin a new life.

I guess I thought repentance was a one-time thing.   Something we did when we came to acknowledge and believe in God.  However, I also understood that we need to confess our sins regularly.   Confession is only one part of the complete repentance process, and it involves more than just using words.

Swedenborg has much to say about repentance.   “Our evils live in our will; that is the source of all the evil things we do physically. Therefore if we do not search out evils in our thoughts and our will, we will be unable to repent, because afterward we will have the same thoughts and intentions as we had before; and intending evils is the same as doing them. This therefore is what self-examination entails.” (New Jerusalem §164)

In our worldly ways, we might try to avoid this process.   It is painful and brings on shame and guilt, and sometimes even self-loathing. Shake it off. God doesn’t want condemnation, He wants our trust and obedience.

Better yet, Dr. Holley tell us “when repentance is fueled by principles of right relationship, it grants power.”   Hallelujah!

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  2 Chronicles 7:14 

Forgiveness and healing!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9 

Forgiveness and purification!

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.  Proverbs 28:13 

 Mercy!

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.  Acts 3:19 

Times of refreshing!

There is power in repentance!   You can take that to the bank!   No sitting around hoping that it worked!   If God said it, believe it.    Celebrate!    Go, and sin no more!

Dr. Holley offers this advice about repentance: “Reshape your focus. Be available for correction as an opportunity for growth.”

Thank you Lord for loving us so much that you offer forgiveness and renewal.    Help us to accept your gracious offer and walk joyfully in your promises.

 

Names and meanings and being innocently prudent

I recently researched the meaning of my name.  It was for a class I am taking about discovering our purpose and life calling.

Susan
Susan is derived from the Greek word meaning lotus flowerAnd according to Hebrew roots, it is derived from the words meaning “to be joyful”. In Persian, Susan is the name given to lily flower.
 
 As the flowers most often associated with funerals, lilies symbolize that the soul of the departed has received restored innocence after death.
 
The Lotus flower is regarded in many different cultures, especially in eastern religions, as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. Its characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition:
 
even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower
This is some powerful information to digest.   I was named after my 3rd great grandmother.
Susan has given me a lot to ponder about living during and after slavery in America.   She wrote a short story that includes a belief in empathy and love for all people.  An obituary of her husband reported that they both were followers of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a scientist in the 1700″s who experienced a spiritual awakening and wrote volumes about his experiences and beliefs.  Last week, the Swedenborg Foundation streamed a programs called “8 meditations on innocence“.
Susan – restored innocence – Genealogy Swedenborg -meditations on innocence.
The word prudent means preparing for the future.  My life call is to prepare for my future in heaven where there will be restored innocence.  When we have innocence we have empathy and love for all people.
My life call has me exploring empathy and love for all people.  It is a journey of being imperfectly prudent.
Your servant us listening.  Speak Lord to my soul.

 

A whole new understanding

There are some things in life that make no sense.  That saying that “Everything happens for a reason” seems like a cruel joke.  And even the promise that God can use all things for His good doesn’t seem true or clear in this lifetime.

Growing up we knew that my Dad lost a younger sister.    Dad was 6 years old when his 4 year old sister ran out into the street and was killed by a car.   She was chasing a ball.    We had a beautiful portrait of her.  My oldest sister was named after her.   We did not discuss details.   I don’t know if my Dad was with her when it happened.    It was a sad loss.   My grandparents were devastated.  By the time Dad was an adult, his parents were divorced.  Both struggled with alcoholism.    My grandfather suffered with depression and was treated with Electric Shock Therapy.   By the time I came around, he lived in a nursing home and it was said he was “senile”.   Sometimes he seemed content and cheerful, but mostly quiet and sullen.

Recently I renewed my genealogy research, which included access to online historical newspapers.   I came across a story I had never heard before.

In 1920, when my grandfather was 17 years old, he was the driver in an automobile accident where he swerved to miss a car that pulled in front of him.  He slammed on breaks and skidded nearly 90 feet, into a group of children preparing to cross the street.   One seven year old girl died from her injuries.    My great grandfather was quoted “The accident was entirely unavoidable.  He faced the possibility of collision with another automobile and made every attempt to avoid an accident when the car skidded and injured the children.”

There were 5 other teenagers in the car.    They all testified that they felt safe and he was not driving excessively.  An eye witness stated that is appeared the young driver became frightened when he saw the car in front of him, and swerved to avoid an accident.

Ultimately, he received a lesser sentence than he could have because he was treated as a juvenile.

Grandpa would later go to college and dental school and become a well-respected dentist in Northern Alabama where he would meet his wife and start a family.

I cannot imagine how he could not feel the death of his daughter was somehow payback for the earlier accident.    How could he not?    Did my grandfather wrestle with God or did he just crumble under the weight of grief?   The grace is that his remaining children would grow up to be successful professionals, loving and empathetic, and respectful of their parents, understanding the weight of grief from losing a child.

Why must someone overcome tragedy to become a successful contributor to society, only to have more tragedy and devastation heaped upon you?    Where are you God?

Recently a prominent, beloved Christian performer experienced the death of his 21 year-old son, on the cusp of his own career success.    Within hours after the report, he issued a statement, remembering the joy and gifts of his son.    He closed with these words:

“My wife and I would want the world to know this…
We don’t follow God because we have some sort of under-the-table deal with Him, like, we’ll follow you if you bless us. We follow God because we love Him. It’s our honor.  He is the God of the hills and the valleys.  And He is beautiful above all things.” — 
Toby Mac

What a testimony.  What courage.

I pray that when Grandpa passed at age 78, after a hard, long, tumultuous life, that he was welcomed by the children gone too soon, and into the arms of His Savior, offering comfort, rest and a peace that passes all understanding.

Deep tangled roots

Recently, while doing some genealogy research, I discovered a connection between my dad’s family and my mom’s family long before they were even born.

I discovered a newspaper article describing the wedding of my great-uncle on my dad’s side.  I did not realize that his bride’s family was from the same small town as my mom.  The bride’s family was friends with my mom’s mother’s family.  We called my grandmother (Mom’s mom) Gran.  Gran played the violin at the wedding in 1930.  She was 11 years old.

The bride and groom would become the parents of her first son in law.  The sister of the groom was a bridesmaid, and she would become the mother of her 2nd son in law.

I imagine such connections may not be so rare, especially in rural south Alabama, but I am just amazed by this story.

I never knew or thought about how my Mom’s sister met Uncle Dave, first cousin of my Dad.  I just knew that he came to visit my Aunt one weekend, leaving the military boarding school he attended, and he was bringing his cousin, my dad with him who needed a date.  My mom was 18 months younger than her sister.  Mom was 14 (but they told Dad she was nearly 16), because he was 18.  After that my parents exchanged letters and my mom and her sister would attend social events at the military school.

I understood about two sisters marrying two cousins.  My aunt and uncle’s children are my first and second cousins (but not thru blood relations!).   But since my aunt took the last name of her husband, and my Dad’s mom took the last name of her husband, I always associated her married family as part of my mom’s family.

You never know how paths will cross.   Sometimes you just don’t realize all the connections that had to take place for lasting connections to happen.   And yet none of this is surprising to God.

Growing up we always had Thanksgiving at Gran’s house.   The day after Thanksgiving we would travel an hour and a half south to visit my great Uncle and Aunt.   I’m sure my Dad’s mom (we called her Mama Jane) was around some, but she passed away when I was in 3rd grade, way before I could fully understand these family connections.

New International Version
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5

Baby Steps

One of the beginning issues to understand when being intentional about addressing hate is that there is a difference between “God and I love all people” and “there is a history and pattern of hate, intolerance and discrimination that must not be condoned or allowed to continue.  I recently came across this helpful quote:  

When we are not able to see the world through other peoples eyes or are unable able to find common ground with them, that is when it becomes easy to start hurting them. A lack of empathy in the world is what scares me. It seems that there is a tremendous lack of empathy in the world right now.” – Preston Fassel

It is multiple layers of hate and evil that invades individuals and groups of people that lead to long term and systemic injustice.

It will take more than goodwill and “God says so” to be an agent of change.

The next thing to understand is that Rome was not built in a day.   You cannot fix this overnight.  It is a marathon.   It is important to see it through.   You may become tired, weary, beat down, or apathetic.    But do the work.   Stay the course.

God, help me to stay the course in this long journey.  Be my guide in the highs and lows.  Transform me as I learn and grow to be more like you.  Let anything that is not of you fall away and wither.  Lord, in your mercy……