A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.” Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.” This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer. But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored. Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.
Our endings are God’s beginnings. If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way. We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage. We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us. But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life. God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story. A story that God is always creating.
I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life. When I met Wally he was already in his eighties. Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs. He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.
This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life. The destruction is overwhelming. But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports. God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.
People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping. The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors. Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats. Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another. Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt. We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness. This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers. Psalm 78:13-16
From our praying AND helping tent to yours,
This is a quote my guy heard this week in a Bible study and he shared it with me. You would think that he would come home from a Bible study reciting scripture or sharing how he felt the Holy Spirit speak to him. Instead, he shared how a wise friend said, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper…the closer you get to the end the faster it goes!”
It’s funny…because it is full of truth. The brilliance is placing a common roll of toilet paper next to time. All people, no matter their race, beliefs, goals, faith, dreams, failures, degrees, successes, are able to connect with toilet paper and time. And if we can agree on the truth of these two common experiences, we can find other experiences of life to agree on as well.
For instance, Martin Buber, a philosopher and theologian, gave the world a gift when he discovered the I-Thou relationship in dialogue. In this relationship, two people turn to one another with openness and respect. This is possible because we experience this relationship with God and we can share it with others. When we encounter another person, it is possible to see them through the eyes of God. By recognizing the divine in another person, they recognize the divine in us. Buber said, “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.”
At the end of the day we all struggle with the same ups and downs, gains and losses, friends and family, and personal and private events that life gives us. We are more alike than different. Toilet paper and time. Wouldn’t it be life-giving to engage the people we meet (and the people in our homes) through the blessing of an I-Thou relationship? I am pretty sure that we will be quoting scripture and sharing how we felt the Holy Spirit speak to us as we meet God there. Try it.
Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:10
From our happy tent to yours,
I am married to a duck hunter. When we married 16 years ago, he was not a duck hunter. Today he is. His friends took him hunting a year ago and he was open to the new experience. To say that he enjoyed it is an understatement. This guy dove in like a duck and has not stopped flying since. All year long, Amazon Prime has swiftly delivered much needed “supplies” for the hunts. Our garage has slowly filled up with duck decoys, duck calls, duck decoys and a lot of camo things. It now looks like an Academy supply warehouse.
For the past five mornings, I have been on a duck hunting date with my guy. I was open to this new date experience. At five o’clock we rise, he makes me hot tea and we go duck hunting. Actually…I hang out in the truck and he hunts. From the truck, I have had the privilege of watching the sunrise. Each morning it has been breath taking. Each morning it has been different. Each morning has been a new experience.
Duck hunting has given my guy a hobby…a much needed hobby. Going hunting has pulled me out of my normal morning routine and shown me a beautiful new day, every day.
As we lean into the New Year, we are called to being open. Just as every sunrise is different, every year is different. We cannot anticipate or know what lies ahead. There is no need for anxiety or fear because God travels with us.
We do know that each day will begin with a sunrise and end with a sunset. Each day God will be co-creating with us to show the world how to love one another. If we are willing to being open to something new, our breath will be taken away and we will discover new experiences.
What new experiences are you open to this year? What is God asking you to leave behind so that you can live with an attitude of being open?
For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert! Isaiah 43:19
Happy New Year from Happy Tents,
It was 5:30pm when I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to join her for a last minute dinner. Yes! I would love to go to dinner and skip out on our normal evening ritual. After I hit “send” on my phone, I remembered that I had not taken a shower all day! I actually had dinner planned for my family and the grill was hot. I was exhausted after doing errands, laundry, dishes and playing all day. Why had I said yes?
As I was trying to do something with my dirty hair, I had many thoughts of backing out. I was about ready to do just that when I remembered how my grandmother explained friendship to me one day. She said that our circle of friends grows in our teen years and our young adult years. During our adult years that circle begins to get smaller. We have less time for friends and our circle of friends gets smaller. As we get older that circle becomes very small because some of our friends move to heaven before us. She encouraged me to spend time with friends every time I am given the chance to keep my friend circle as large as possible for as long as possible.
Friends are God’s angels on earth. When we need to be cheered up, a friend calls. When we pretend that everything is just “fine”, a real friend knows we are lying. When we just want to have fun for a few hours and watch a movie, we call a friend. When we need a good cup of coffee and a good conversation, a friend has time to meet us at the coffee shop. It is amazing to see how God uses friends in our lives.
In our busy, scheduled world, it is too easy to say no to a friend. We are often tired, overwhelmed and too busy to say yes when that spontaneous text comes to us. But, we actually need to say yes (even if we have dirty hair) to friend invitations. They give us a chance to break out of our routine and connect to someone we care about. When we do that, God is present too! God did not create us to be alone. We are called to live in community.
This week, step out of your tent and text a friend. Set up a spontaneous dinner or coffee just to be together. Help other people in your tent do the same. Your time with your friends (new and old) is time well spent!
Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you. Matthew 18:20
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
P.S. Here is a good article about the importance of friendship from Q Ideas. Check it out and visit about it with your friends! “Is True Friendship Dying Away?”
Years ago a friend asked me to describe my relationship with God and I quickly responded that I felt like I was in a Pit all alone. God wasn’t there. Luckily my friend did not run out of the room and down the street screaming. My friend did not really say much because there was not much to say. When you are in the Pit, you just want someone to sit beside you and not try to “fix it.” The Pit feels heavy, lonely and scary.
One gift the Pit offers is time. Lots of time. Time to be. Time to think. Time to rest. It also offers space to talk with God. Jonah offers us an example of praying to God from a Pit…the belly of a whale. In Jonah’s prayer he says, “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.” Somewhere in the midst of prayer, loneliness and fear something starts to happen. The Pit begins to offer clarity, purpose and hope. Jonah was vomited (gross) out of his Pit on to the shore. Clarity, purpose and hope. Samuel Shoemaker, a great Episcopalian priest, once said, “Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.”
Someone around you is probably experiencing life in the Pit this week (or month…or year). It may be someone you live with in your tent or it may be you. Someone you know is in the Pit. Here is what you do for the Pit dwellers …. give them space, keep them fed and practice patience. Sometimes life is just hard and God seems far far away (even though God is right there all the time). When life is hard, we need people around us that will not run out of the room and down the street. We need friends who will just sit beside us until the experience passes.
When it passes, Pit dwellers become new creations. Just like butterflies struggle to come out of their cocoons, we struggle to come out of the Pits of life. The results are well worth the journey.