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?

If I Were Young Again …

Remember Seven CD Cover
Remember Seven CD Cover

If I were young again …

I would travel to Africa.

I would write songs and tell stories.

I would quit my job (if I had one) and join a missionary band.

Today in chapel, I got to meet Remember Seven — four young adults living out my dream. KT Wallis, Matthew Green, and Tobias Batemen are from Australia. Joy Stovall is from Canada. In February, 2009, these four served in Zambia and Zimbabwe and found their lives changed by the experience. They told this story: At the Mwandi Ovc Centre in Zambia, they worked with a project that feeds 250+ children six days a week. For many of these children, these 6 meals a week are the only food they receive. On the seventh day, there is no food. While serving there, they ate with the children for six days and didn’t eat on the seventh day. Their band is named after this experience.

After they got back home, they decided to quit their jobs and start a missionary band. Now they are traveling — singing, telling their stories, and witnessing to the presence of God in their lives. Remember Seven recorded a CD of songs inspired by their experiences. They live on a portion of the proceeds (and the kindness of their hosts) and send the rest of the money to projects in Africa. They are in the United States traveling until mid-November. Check out their travel schedule and see if they might be coming near you. And consider buying their music.

If I were young again … I just might join them.

Interview with Beth, part 2

"The Biltmore"
"The Biltmore"

A few months ago, The Upper Room interviewed me for a prototype of a new magazine. The magazine didn’t launch, but I still have the interview. Here’s part two. (Back to part one.)

Upper Room: What are some of your earliest memories of praying or of seeing others pray?

Beth: My dad was a Methodist preacher, so seeing him pray was an early memory for me. We had prayers before meals and observed the church seasons (especially Advent!) in our family. I don’t remember this, but a family story is told that when I was about 3 or 4, my grandpa found me sitting in an old outhouse (“The Biltmore”) at our vacation cabin in Colorado. He asked me what I was doing. I said I was “just sitting here thinking about God.” So I guess my contemplative side started early. [Laughs.]

Upper Room: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pray but doesn’t quite know how to begin?

Beth: Anne Lamott says in Traveling Mercies that the two best prayers she knows are “‘Help me, Help me, Help me,’ and ‘Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.'” Prayer doesn’t have to be formal, fancy, or profound. Prayer is just connecting to God — by talking, by listening, by noticing where God is in our day. In a way, I think praying is just opening our eyes and seeing what’s already there. When I see the beautiful moon rising when I’m driving home, my feelings are a prayer. When I see or hear an ambulance driving by, the hitch in my breath is a prayer of compassion for the person who is in crisis. Think about people or situations that need God’s love and care. And ask God to walk with you through the day. Try that out for a month and then ask God what’s next. Then … Listen. I believe that God will help guide the process.

Interview with Beth, Part 1

Rose breasted grosbeak in my backyard
Rose breasted grosbeak in my backyard

A few months ago, The Upper Room interviewed me for a prototype of a new magazine. The magazine didn’t launch, but I still have the interview. Here’s part one.

Upper Room: How do you pray?

Beth: I usually take some time for prayer each morning before I leave the house. It’s not a great lot of time — maybe ten minutes or less. Sometimes I read a daily reflections book like Openings by Larry Peacock. I have some set prayers that I say each day, helping me to get connected to God and asking God to guide me through the day. Currently I like to do this at the breakfast table — I like to look outside at the birds at the bird feeder. If the birds need food, I go out and fill up the feeder. Over the past year or so, seeing the birds makes me think of the scripture where Jesus talked about the birds and how they don’t store food, but trust in God to be fed every day (Luke 12:22-29). I’m sort of a worrier, and seeing the birds, feeding the birds, helps me have faith rather than fear.

During the day, I don’t have intentional times of prayer, but I’ll often find myself praying a breath prayer. I developed a breath prayer a couple of years ago when I was going through a stressful time. I used it so much back then that I find myself praying it unconsciously. The prayer is like this:  inhaling, I say, “Loving God.” Exhaling, I say, “I am yours.” Sometimes, if there’s a specific need I have, I’ll consciously change the words of the breath prayer to address the situation I’m in. Like if I’m afraid, I could replace the second half with “I trust in you.”

I want to add a prayer time to the end of my day, but I haven’t found the right fit for me yet. I’m interested in doing an “examen” at the end of each day, looking back on my day and evaluating what had happened. I believe that when I find the right way to do it, it will fall into place. There are so many different ways to pray that there’s bound to be a pattern, a prayer method, etc., that will fit me. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “one-size-fits-all” way to pray.

To be continued ….

Grandpa’s Peonies

Grandpa's Peony
Grandpa's Peony

Grandpa’s peonies started blooming yesterday. My Grandpa Wilson was a gardener. His entire back yard in Norman, OK was dedicated to a garden that he started harvesting in February (potatoes) and finished harvesting in late fall (turnips). He rotated crops, planting and harvesting three vegetables per season in the same rows. His compost pile, at times, was so tall that he had to walk up on top of it — about 5 feet in the air — to dump his compost bucket.

Grandpa was born in the early 1900s in Kennelworth South Africa. His parents nearly starved during the siege of Kimberly in the Second Boer War. The story is that they were starving, but Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma had planted a garden and knew there was food to be had. Great-Grandpa took a sack and snuck through the enemy lines one night to get to their garden. Though overgrown over with weeds, the plot was full of vegetables. Great-Grandpa filled up his sack and brought the food back through the siege lines.

Grandpa Tom didn’t have a lot of use for flowers (“You can’t eat them”), but there were a peonies planted in the back yard. After his funeral, I dug up a clump, put them in a grocery sack, and brought them back home to Tennessee. Early in the spring, they bloom, bringing alive memories of my Grandpa Tom. I’m blessed.