Who Are Your Shepherds?

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV

I wonder — Who are your shepherds?

My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.

My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”

I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
O may your house be my abode, and all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest (while others go and come),
no more a stranger nor a guest; but like a child at home.

– “Psalm 23 (My Shepherd, You Supply My Need)”
[Words: Isaac Watts; adapt. by Mary Ruth Coffman (© 1981 The Upper Room)]

Nashville in Exile

Nashville Downtown Flood Panorama by Kelsey Wynns
Nashville Downtown Flood Panorama by Kelsey Wynns


By the rivers of Babylon —
there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

– Psalm 137:1-4 (NRSV)

Image used with permission of Kelsey Wynns. © Kelsey Wynns.

God’s Love Taking Flight

Abe McIntyre of Bahamas Habitat
Abe McIntyre of Bahamas Habitat - watch the video clip

My friend, Abraham McIntyre, is working to bring healing to Haiti. The director of Bahamas Habitat, Abraham and his crew have been using social networking (both the new and the old kind), hard work, and creativity to fly medical supplies into the outlying areas of Haiti.

Bahamas Habitat normally works to build houses. But ever since the earthquake, Abraham and his volunteers have helped to facilitate evacuations out of Haiti and supply delivery into Haiti. As refugees leave Port-au-Prince and go to the countryside, the needs for medical relief there have increased.

Bahamas Habitat’s formula for Haiti:

Abraham’s always been a giver. A couple of years ago, I posted blog entries from him as he took his first year out of college and traveled around the world volunteering. He drove computer supplies to Belize, flew to the Bahamas to help fix up people’s houses, worked with homeless outreach in Atlanta. He ended up back in the Bahamas as the director of the program there. He has a knack at seeing needs and figuring out ways to meet them.

Ways to Help

  • Recruit donations of medical supplies
  • Identify small airplanes which are available to assist
  • Donate money to help purchase fuel for the flights
  • Spread the word about the needs

Learn more …

Life after Advent/Christmas/Epiphany

Ordinary mushroom for Ordinary TimeI’ve been so social, so extroverted(!!!) since the beginning of Advent that today felt a little odd. On this day after Epiphany, I felt sort of like — “Where’d everybody go?”

I asked my Facebook friends about life after Advent and here’s some of their collective wisdom:

Bob: Yes, most certainly!!! I think it is something about discipleship.

Micah: Yeah, it’s called Mardi Gras!!!

Pam: I on the other hand think its about sleeping… until the Annunciation wakes you up.

Debbie: Absolutely, there is life after everything!

Ann: Good question.

Lynda: There are wonderful ordinary days which are relaxing and can be spirit filled. I remember our student preacher, Rachel, say in a sermon that God can come in the ordinary days of January as much as in December when we are overwhelmed with it all. Was comforting to me to hear this since I love the quietness of Jan. and Feb.

What about you? Tell me about your life after Advent.

Nativity Surprise

Copper Wire Crèche

I opened a gift from my brother on Christmas and discovered the Nativity scenes from our childhood. One was the figures we had played with — with Mary’s chipped nose and the shepherd whose legs were lost along the way. Joseph’s head’s been glued back on so many times that he has a mantle of Elmer’s. Also in the box were the copper wire figures my dad crafted as a part of an Advent wreath and crèche.

As I unpacked the box, tears flowed. I didn’t know the crèches were still around. These treasures from my childhood coming back to me now — what a great gift!

I’m wondering — what are the significant rituals or symbols you remember from your childhood? Do you still have them in your life?

Disconnected!

Me, fully unplugged
Me, fully unplugged

On the 7th day of my vacation at a remote cabin in Colorado, the DSL line providing my internet connection went down, and I got to see how dependent I’ve become on my electronic relationships. It had probably been three years since I spent any significant time disconnected from my cell phone, my email (and all those other seemingly invaluable tools such as Facebook and Twitter).

The wireless router was still sending its signal — and I kept glancing at its strength – but there was no internet . And every so often, I launched a browser … just to check to see if the connection had been repaired.

There was a land line at the cabin (a cordless phone, even), but I felt anxiety starting to build. What if something really important from work needed my attention? What about all those emails that were going to pile up? How was I going to check in for my flight on Southwest?

Goodness, this is ridiculous, I said to myself. It’s pitiful … and it’s not healthy … to be this dependent on technology. This is what I write and preach about — disconnecting with email so that we can connect with God. How ironic it was to find myself in that void — separated from God, the only thing that could fill the empty place left by my sudden electronic interruption.

“You satisfy the hungry heart,” the song played in my head. Fill me, O God, with your presence. Forgive my obsession with being wired (or wireless). You are the Source of my true connection. Amen.