Sunday, May 5, 2024

In the Wind

As fellow writer Lisbeth says, "we have just so much ‘schtick’" when it comes to making presentations. So whenever I’m asked to speak, I try adjust my schtick to be to relevant and (hopefully) entertaining to the particular group I’m addressing. Recently, when my friend Rhonda asked me to speak to her ladies organization, I spent several hours honing my usual material into a customized presentation for them. I also spent a good deal of time practicing my delivery.

Since this presentation wasn’t going to involve Powerpoint, I decided to go old school and use paper notes. (Does anyone do that anymore?) But I figured paper would be less cumbersome than hauling my laptop and worrying about technology glitches—which have been known to occur. I know younger folks—that means anyone younger than I—rely on their phones these days, but for me that also presents its own set of problems. So paper it was.

The morning of the meeting, I gathered my books and promo material into a basket, adding my notes as the last item. As I loaded all my paraphernalia into my car, I double checked that the notes were there, and I distinctly remember thinking, “You’d be in a world of hurt without these.” A foreboding?

I arrived at my destination in plenty of time, confident I’d done all I could—including praying— to ensure my presentation would go smoothly. It was a windy day in Oklahoma—no surprise there—and I pushed my hair out of my eyes as I retrieved the basket from my car. I walked toward the building, greeting a few people on my way. Rhonda met me at the door and directed me to the meeting room.

I began setting up my display: books? check; bookmarks? check; business cards? check; newsletter sign-up list? check; notes? …. notes? NOTES???!!!

I frantically searched the basket. I flipped through the calendar I’d brought as well as several books. I inspected my money bag. Not yet going into full-blown panic, I returned to my car, certain the notes must’ve fallen out there. Nope. 

Now I was panicking. 

The phrase “in the wind” is traditionally used to indicate "about or

likely to happen" as in "a company takeover is in the wind." But I became familiar with a different meaning   two years ago when I read Rembrandt Is In the Wind (which I highly recommend) by Russ Ramsey. I’ve heard the phrase a few times since, most recently in a mafia movie: “I’m afraid Benny is in the wind.” It’s a great metaphor for gone, disappeared, vanished, scattered to a far corner of the earth never to be seen again. In the case of the mafia movie, it was code for Benny is resting at the bottom of a landfill. 

In the midst of my panic, that phrase came to me. The only logical conclusion was that on my way into the building, my notes had blown out of my basket. In my case, “in the wind” meant spread across five Oklahoma counties

I had a few minutes before my talk. I breathed deeply, waited for my blood pressure to lower, collected my thoughts, and once again prayed. In the back of the calendar I’d brought, I quickly jotted down what I remembered from my notes.

In the end, all went well. Fortunately, I remembered most of my talk since I’d practiced it so many times. I confessed my situation to the women gathered, a gracious and understanding group. As I spoke, I grew relaxed and felt I was talking with friends. 

When I was leaving, I laughed with Rhonda about the incident, and she shared with me something she’d recently learned in a Beth Moore Bible study. Moore had advised women that whenever they found themselves in a panicky situation to ask the question, “What’s the worst that will probably happen here?” 

I thought about that question and came up with my personal answer: Nothing that, with God’s help, I can’t handle—even when my best laid plans end up "in the wind."

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Sermon on the Sitcom

You can credit this post to daylight savings time. It’s not that I forgot to set my clock forward, but that I didn’t feel like getting up an hour earlier. Fortunately, our church provides three Sunday morning services, so 
rather than attending my regular 8:30 service, I went at 11:00. 

That choice resulted in a little extra time that morning—time I could’ve spent in meditation or prayer, properly preparing myself for worship. Instead I chose to indulge in one more episode of a sitcom I’ve been bingeing on. (Spoiler alert! If you are not yet to Season 6 of Young Sheldon, you might want to stop reading here.) 

You’re probably wondering how a sitcom that is at times risqué and often irreverent could possibly qualify as sermon material. But if you’re a fan of the prequel to The Big Bang Theory, you know Young Sheldon presents some intriguing—and often hilarious—food for thought concerning many areas of life, including religion. It’s a lot of the ridiculous, a bit of the sublime.

The episode I watched that particular Sunday dealt with the sticky issue of a pre-marital pregnancy—the news that the Cooper family would soon be welcoming an unplanned new member. All the family were struggling in their own way with how to deal with this situation, but perhaps none more than Mary, the grandmother-to-be. 

Mary is the spiritual leader of her family. While her theology is sometimes a bit flawed, she has a good heart, and her faith is strong. She spends a lot of time in her personal prayer garden, trying to sort out with God the challenges of being a wife and mother in the worldly world of the 1990s. Her commitment to her church is also strong. She serves as church secretary and hosts a weekly Bible study. 

On the Sunday after learning of the pregnancy, Mary corrals her reluctant family into the church sanctuary. It’s going to be awkward. Mary knows the entire church now knows the Coopers’ little secret. But where better to sort out life’s trials than church?

I know sitcoms are supposed to make us laugh, but I was close to tears as I watched the Cooper family enter the sanctuary. I longed for Mary to find acceptance, comfort, solace in her Christian community but feared she would not. Sadly, my fear was realized. Mary and her family receive not just a cool but an openly hostile reception: disparaging looks, refusals to sit by them, refusals to join hands with them in prayer. To add insult to injury, the following week all the members of Mary’s Bible study cancel on her.

I wanted to blame this disappointing outcome on the show’s writers—Of course in the show-biz world there is no way they’re going to present Christians in a positive light.  But being honest with myself, I realized this wasn’t such a far-fetched, biased scenario—not in the 1990s and not today. 

I wasn’t finger-pointing at “other” Christians. I searched my own conscience for the times I’ve chosen judgment over grace—the kind of grace that doesn’t condone a difficult situation but offers understanding and the help to get through it. 

Duly convicted by my sitcom sermon, I proceeded to my church where I listened to another one taken from Psalm 23. That scripture passage assures us that God—unlike fellow Christians sometimes—will never desert those who trust in him. Like a faithful shepherd, he guides us through our most difficult trials and struggles—our personal “valley[s] of the shadow of death.”

I haven’t finished all the episodes of Young Sheldon yet, but as of the last one I watched, Mary has abandoned church. So far, she hasn’t been shown in her prayer garden either, suggesting she also may have abandoned God. But God hasn’t abandoned Mary, and I’m holding out hope that eventually her faith in him will be strong enough to overcome her disappointment with the church. And I’m wishing Mary Cooper could’ve heard that Psalm 23 sermon.

Friday, January 12, 2024

My Word for 2024 -- Meditate

In 2018, rather than making resolutions (which held a slim chance of being kept) I began  choosing a word on which to focus throughout the year. With the exception of 2022 in which I focused on songs, I’ve stuck to that practice and feel it has served me well. When the words are positive—joy, hope, community, shine, goodness—it is truly surprising how they can provide inspiration and encouragement throughout the year, even on those days that aren’t going so great. 

For 2024, I first considered the word abide. So many good definitions and Bible verses are associated with that word. In fact, just this morning, our pastor delivered a sermon on abiding, and I was tempted to revert to it. Rather than struggling with writing this post, I could just plagiariz borrow his words—giving due credit, of course.

But I stuck to my final choice: meditate. I arrived at this word because after checking the definitions of abide, I came to the conclusion that dwelling or remaining in the place I wanted required arriving there first. I thought meditation would be one good way--among others--to get to that place. To confirm this belief, I checked the definitions of meditate: 1) to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect 2) to engage in devout religious contemplation, or quiet spiritual introspection. Synonyms include ponder, consider, think, deliberate, study. Some scripture synonyms I found—continue, dwell, remember, muse, treasure, be absorbed, and, perhaps my favorite in The Message translation, “chew on.” 

Attempts at meditation aren’t new to me, but I admit I struggle. The problem comes from emptying my mind of all non-meditation-worthy thoughts. For some reason, the moment my mind receives the message I’m going to meditate, it decides to offer up for consideration every thought, situation, activity, worry, etc. it can conceive of. Eyes opened, eyes closed, deep breathing, different positions, different activities—they all help to a degree but I’ve yet to master the pathway to truly deep, meaningful meditation. Perhaps that's because the method isn't as important as the motivation and the focus of my meditating.

Perhaps how we meditate isn't as important as ...

why and on what we meditate.

I looked up Bible passages that instruct as to why we should meditate as well as on what we should meditate. Here are just a few of the many:


“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

 On What

“I will ponder all your work, and mediate on your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:12

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

I’ll keep you posted on my journey. Perfect meditation is not my goal, and I know it isn’t a requisite for abiding. I suspect meditation and abiding go hand-in-hand rather in chronological order. Maybe working on my meditation will enhance my abiding...and vice versa. And maybe I already have my word for next year!