Gratitude precedes redemption….. Thanksgiving precedes the miracle….
- Ann Voskamp
Last week I had my family scratching their heads as they watched me in the kitchen. I'd be lying if I said this had never happened before, but they had yet to witness five lovely prayer shawls be stuffed in plastic and vacuum sucked until they looked like something scary out of the freezer. Of course, we had to open one just to confirm that they came out as light and fluffy and exquisit as when they started. No worry there.
And now they are snuggly packed in a 22" Samsonite and headed with great love and care to the hills of Appalachia in Tennessee and North Carolina. Who are they for? I have no idea. I do know that the women of Dorcas Circle who knitted them with graceful hands are quite sure that God will use them, and us, in His own way. Vacuum sealed comfort.
In a few hours my mom will pick me up and take me to San Antonio to meet a Delta plane headed east. There I will join a group of 23 women from around the country in Asheville, North Carolina to embark on a 10-day itinerary. We will hear local historians and Appalachian women tell about the unique history and culture of the region, tour and fellowhship with local organizations serving women, children and families, and see the evolution of PC(USA) mission and ministry programs in rural Appalachia.
The Presbyterian Women's USA Mission Experience is a triennial trip that focuses on understanding the history and culture of a region, the ministry of the church there and the challenges faced by women and families living in the area. Two previously explored areas of our country have been in South Dakota (understanding the Lakota people and other Native American groups) and El Paso, Texas (with an emphasis on immigration). This program is a response to the long established Presbyterian Women Global Exchange Program. Making connections to world wide needs and concerns in our own country is also an element of the USA Mission Experience.
Facts about Appalachia:
Appalachia is a 13-state region that stretches along the Appalachian mountain range from southwestern New York to northeastern Mississippi. The Appalachian Regional Commission, established by Congress in 1965 to support economic and social development in the Applachian region, covers 406 counties. During Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” in the mid-1960s, 219 of those counties were identified as “distressed.” In 2005, 82 of those counties were still considered “distressed.”
Preparation for the trip has been extensive. We were given a fantastic reading list of fiction and nonfiction books to get our brains engaged. I haven't even been yet and my family already rolls their eyes as I wax on about hog slaughters, dulcimer music, and infectious diseases of the area. Every once in awhile my husband will ask me again, "Now, what exactly are you going to be doing?" When I am feeling smart I'll say, "We are going to listen. Listen to their stories. Then share them with the world." But more often than not I just shrug and respond, " I don't know. But God does and He wants me to go."
And so I am off! Happy that there are not TSA flight regulations regarding an abundance of gratitude and thanksgiving, for I would surely be over the limit allowed.
Follow Sherry at www.mesha417.tumblr.com
Getting the car packed and taking care of details before the trek to MoRanch can often feel like you are in the ocean 100 feet below sea level desperately swimming your way up for air. Water is nice enough until you feel trapped and can’t breathe. After gathering friends and sling-shotting ourselves towards the Hill Country that deep in-breathing came somewhere around Boerne. And the sign for Comfort was, well, more than a little comforting.
Our theme for the PW Spring Gathering at Mo was “The Story Unfolds...” with passages from 2 Timothy 1:5 and Ephesians 3:14-21. The Story (with a capitol S) and our story (with a lower case s) was written and woven and sung in everything we did. Workshops encouraged us to continue the tradition of telling our tale through journals and letters. Gorgeous quilts draped the walls of the auditorium quietly murmuring their stories in every stitch. In worship we were given 10,000 reasons to sing like never before. I got the theme, and it was well played, but an even simpler message unfolded for me: Comfort.
Let me point out an important development at MoRanch first. New chairs!!! Ample, cushy, pretty, lovely non-butt-numbing chairs. Thank you First Pres. Dallas for addressing this vital need. I had no idea that a comfy hiney was so important to my over all well being. Also, praises for new toilets that don’t move! As MoRanch President Dick Powell put it, “When you sit you are not at risk.” Physical comfort-check!
I was really looking forward to going to Anne Beall’s workshop titled, “What’s Your Part?” but was frustrated that it was not on the schedule. Well, listen to this story. The WWW (Wonderful Women of Wimberely) were notified on Monday that their keynote speaker could not come. And the reason was so good they couldn’t even have bitching rights. Get this, Kathy Anderson, the director of John Knox Ranch, was going to speak to us. Kathy Anderson, who’s ministry has served the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of children, was told that after two years of waiting, two YEARS, God thought it was time for her to adopt a baby. So, Kathy stayed home with little Jordan Marie and Anne gave the WWW a huge gift by speaking to us all, and I was comforted by watching my sisters in Christ do what they do.
2 Timothy 1:5 reads, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” It was beautiful seeing this verse played out over the weekend. We saw it with Kathy, Jordan, and Anne. We felt it with the cloud of witnesses who took communion with us on Sunday morning. Lynne (90) graciously posed for a picture I wanted to share with my daughter, Eleanor (13). They are both ballet dancers and have a twinkle that knows no age. God’s word rings true today as always. Comfort abounds.
I resisted the urge to sneak into the auditorium at night, carefully unpin one of the quilted treasure and wrap up in its warmth and assurance like a little girl. Instead, I reached for the book that envelops me like no other and read the prayer for the Ephesians, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” All glory, and comfort, to Christ Jesus!
Thank you again to the Wonderful Women of Wimberely.
C+ is the grade I gave myself at 6:30 am on Sunday morning. The minimum standards on my imaginary scoring rubric were met with a smattering of creative touches and attention to detail possibly worthy of the plus. Self-assessment couldn’t go much beyond that. The objective of putting together two worship services to Celebrate the Gifts of Women could be checked off. The objective of harnessing the energy of each and every women at NBCP, and producing a slide show that would bring tears, and hearing trumpets blaring and worshipers dancing down the isles ... well... no. I wasn’t feeling that as I woke reluctant teens and made coffee for the cute guitar player at sunrise.
I bumped into an annoyingly beaming Pastor Lynda in the church office a little after 8. Of course she was beaming; she had the day off. Panic set in. What if the guest pastor didn’t show up? Would I have to preach? Ack! Better to fess up. I didn’t have a back up plan. Surely the church had an emergency sermon in a secret place ready to go. I confessed to Lynda that I could only give myself, and the service, a C+. She just kept smiling.
“That’s great!” she announced. “You have left room for the Spirit to work.”
Oh, she’s good.
I knew I would be flying by the seat of my pants for the next few hours. So many details. Not only was the slide show tearless, it wasn’t even working. Praise songs were out of order. Prayer leaders and the choir had to share speakers during rehearsal. Bulletin blips made me sigh. BUT, Pastor Ellen was on time and in high spirits. Presbyterian Women were offering assistance at every opportunity. Surprisingly helpful teens and husband were at my beck and call.
And then I had a vision. When I am flying by the seat of my pants and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work with me, within me, it is God who has a fistful of my hidden elastic comfort waist mature woman pants flinging me through the air. He is a God of boundless love. If we can laugh like Sarah, if we can fill our lungs with air during the flight, He will grant us new visions and new energy.
Lynda gave me permission to breathe. Ellen made me laugh. My family gave me comfort. PW gave me hope. I burned my imaginary rubric because God is not grading me. Our Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday literature urged us to “honor women through whom God is transforming the church in an emerging era.” Are we going to emerge with a wedgie? Maybe. My fortune cookie at lunch on Sunday read: Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. I had to smile.
“She comes sailing on the wind, her wings flashing in the sun, on a journey just begun, she flies on. And in the passage of her flight, her song rings out through the night, full of laughter, full of light, she flies on.” -Hymn, She Flies On
Oh, She IS good.
I really did intend on including my mama more in this month's blog. However, it is about knitting and, well, a knitter Susan is not. She likes other people's knitting. She has some treasures made by dear friends. Her soft prayer shawl given by the women of our church has carried her through the darkest hours of cancer treatments. However, if you gave her some #10 needles she is more likely to scratch the small of her back or clean grout than purl with them. This is a fact and not an opinion. Just ask her.
In contrast, I have always wanted to knit and needed to do something with my growing yarn collection. Yarn doesn't just become a sweater all by itself. I have tried that. It just sits in the closet and makes you feel guilty. This is also a fact and not an opinion.
Women at church were eagerly advertising a knit and crochet class every second and fourth Monday. I have admired their ability to sit and tat during Sunday School. I've been known to leave a committee meeting with a headache. They leave with an afghan! All those years of waiting in doctor's offices and soccer games and I could have been honing a craft. I also wanted desperately to make a prayer shawl for a dear friend facing an unfathomable challenge. Kathy was going to have a bone marrow transplant and be in isolation for four months. FOUR MONTHS. Figured I could go out on a limb and face a dropped stitch or two.
As mothers are wont to do I used my daughter as a guise to take a lesson for the first time last year. Should have just sent her into the kitchen to tackle grout because she is about as crafty as her nana. It was slow learning, but Suzanne, Ann, and the other women were patient and encouraging. My emerging pot holder paled next to their fiber arts.
Didn't take long to make something. Wisconsin? A cloud? Husband claimed it proudly for his night stand and officially declared it an "eyeglass rest". Didn't matter. I was hooked! After a few more dish rags and a ton of YouTube videos it was time to tackle the electric blue (her favorite color) merino wool that was to become a prayer shawl, a hug for my friend when hugs were not allowed.
The art of the prayer shawl is more than the sum of its stitches. Traditionally, a prayer is said with each knit, with each purl, often in groups or rows of three. Father, Son, Holy Ghost. Spirit, Mind, Body. For Kathy sometimes it was her children: Sam, Abby, Hannah. I learned a lot during my time with this shawl. I learned that drinking and knitting don't always produce the best results. I found that cursing and praying is an interesting combination. I acknowledged that I was powerless over much and that God truly has the upper hand. Knitting was a place where I could be scared for my friend and offered hope at the same time. Prayer shawls are certainly a process driven experience with an end product that continues to sooth and heal.
Knitting is like a lot of other things. Once you start, you just can't stop. I have friends begging for cotton dish cloths like their great aunts used to make because you simply can't find them in the stores. I have made rainbow colored scarves and shipped them across the country to support causes of equality and justice. I have added to the basket of prayer shawls in our sanctuary filled with prayers in every stitch for comfort in times of need. I look forward to a rainy day and a cup off tea with prayers of one, two, three. I like it when people ask what I'm making, because they always do, and I can share a story, because there always is one.
Psalm 145 echoes as the needles click.
"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness."
More info about prayer shawls can be found at www.shawlministry.com, or come join our group at NBPC on the second and fourth Mondays.
I love estate sales. When my kids were small an estate sale was like a mini hands on museum. “What do you think this is?” I’d ask, pointing to a record player or pressure cooker. I enjoy stumbling upon the nice, save-for-company linen hand towels that lived in my mothers cedar chest, and coffee cups just like Aunt Patty had. Treasure hunting is fun, of course. I am partial to hand thrown pottery and out of print books. And sometimes, if you are lucky, a treasure finds you.
There was a welcoming familiarness as I stepped into such a sale this summer. Exquisite needle work with Japanese themes was my first hint. A woman with an arm full of Chico’s jackets left little doubt. Then there were the books. Everywhere there were books. Historical books. Fiction books. Bird books. Lots and lots of bird books. Frozen, I realized whose home this was. Only one sure way to find out. I reached for a Peterson’s field guide and in the upper right hand corner of the first page was the perfect Palmer signature of Lucile C. Spain.
I shouted in my head to the noisy pickers buying tupperware for pennies. “I KNOW her. She is MY friend. Lucile went to my church. We were in Sunday School together. She was one of the smartest women I have ever known. She was a beautiful, kind, gentle spirit. She loved to laugh. She was a mother, sister, and friend to me. I MISS HER.”
After resisting the urge to pack up the whole house and take her home with me I paused and thought about my friend, Lucile. She was a world traveler and voracious reader who had the enviable ability to be totally engaged in any company. She embodied wit and grace, was impeccably dressed at all times, and possessed a lovely southern drawl to boot. She had a story, often first hand, for every occasion. I listened with attentive ears in awe.
With careful consideration I focused my attention on the library before me. Her 1947 Field Guide to the Birds did not leave my hand. I added some Madeline L’Engle, John Muir, Anna Quindlen, and Kathleen Norris. For good measure I threw in a Get Acquainted With Your Bible study guide and headed for the check out.
While walking down the sidewalk a piece of paper dropped out of the stack of treasures. In my stifling hot car I carefully unfolded the message and read the following:
What is a Presbyterian Woman?
God borrows from many creatures to make a Presbyterian Woman. God takes the voice of a meadowlark, the stubbornness of a mule, the curiosity of a cat, the spryness of a grasshopper, and the strength of a pack horse.
Presbyterian Women are found everywhere: in the church choir, in the church kitchen, in the church business manager’s office.
A Presbyterian Woman is comfort with a casserole in her hand, service sweeping up wedding cake crumbs, compassion with a pledge card in her pocket, friendship with a cheerful smile on her face and a hunger for knowledge armed with a Bible and study book.
A Presbyterian Woman has the energy of an atomic bomb, the imagination of a Frank Lloyd Wright, the shyness of a violet, the audacity of a steel trap and the enthusiasm of a firecracker.
A Presbyterian Woman is a dreamer and a worker, dreaming great dreams for her children, her church, and her country , and working to make those dreams come true. She’s a link with the past, a powerful force in the present, and an investment in the future.
With pride I acknowledge my membership in these ranks. I am a PRESBYTERIAN WOMAN- are you?
(Adapted for Presbyterian Women by Martin Morley in 1989.)
Now, how in the world did Lucile C. Spain know that just that very week I had agreed to serve on the PW board for the following year? Here was my “link with the past” encouraging “a powerful force in the present” to make an “investment in the future.” She still has a story to tell and I am still listening with attentive ears. I AM a Presbyterian Woman. Are you?
Greetings Women of New Braunfels Presbyterian Church!
Crazy? Wise? Somewhere in between? This is not an unusual place for most of us to be when committing to a volunteer position. Some of us are well seasoned and have learned the handy phrase, “Thank you for thinking of me. Let me get back with you.” It is not an automatic or emphatic “NO!” Nor is it the naive and gullible “YES!” Giving pause to think about what it means to volunteer for a full year, or more, and how that could play out most assuredly leans towards the wise. (Even if it does drive the nominating committee batty.)
So, Mother and I have been mulling, and talking, and mulling some more. Prayer, too. He is the one calling us in this direction so we figured we would include Him in our discussion. “Mother/Daughter Leadership?” Maybe it is the rest of PW we should have been praying for! Mother in charge as Moderator, Daughter learning from her apron hem as Vice-Moderator. It is a pretty picture. I can tell you, however, that Susan has never, ever worn an apron, and Sherry rarely is patient enough for lessons.
And because we are rather naive at times, and because we really do get excited about PW and what it has given us over the years, and because we see great things that can happen when the women of our church work together, and because we are just crazy enough to think we can make a difference ... here we are!
We began our journey by attending the Presbyterian Women 2012 Churchwide Gathering in Orlando, Florida. Not a bad way to start. Susan’s sister, the Reverend Jane DeFord from Latta Memorial PC in Christiana, Pennsylvania, was a featured presenter. She spoke about her experience in India with PW Global Exchange in 2011. The conference theme was “River of Hope” and we took that very seriously in workshops, worship, and hanging by the pool with Janie under lovely palms.
Besides suitcases bursting with resources, names and numbers of new friends from across the globe, a souvenir or two, we returned with a charge. The Reverend Kathryn Threadgill of Government Street PC in Mobile, Alabama told us to return home and “be still as we float in the river of hope.” Be still? I was ready to jump in and she told us to be still? I imagined listlessly laying in a tube gently floating on the Comal. Doesn’t sound like much advice for leadership.
But what if we all got comfy in a tube with the chilly water tickling our toes? Time is lost on the river. Cicadas ring and ducks bob around. Sunlight flickers through cypress branches and dances with water gurgling from underground springs. The only thing to do is listen and watch. Maybe chat with a friend. Relax and let cares drift away .
Mother and I are here to try and do just this. We want to float with you, listen to what you have to say and what God has to tell us through Bible Study, watch what you are doing and what PW is engaged in locally and globally, chat with everyone, and try, oh try, to relax as He handles the details of it all. Maybe we are CrazyWise. Won't you float and be CrazyWise with us?