Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Devotion March 27, 2019

Greetings All!
Coffee cups are good for coffee and coffee cups are excellent pen holders - as attested by the number of coffee cups I have filled with pens. So instead of amazement over the number of coffee cups I have filled with pens, the amazement should be over the number of pens I have filling my plethora of coffee cups.
I have an attraction to pens and I do not know why. It is not an expense thing because you can get pens for a quarter. It is not really a writing thing because how much actual writing does anyone do anymore. Maybe if it were a thing about keyboards or keypads or what ever they call those pop up screens on our cellular telephones which is what we use more frequently to write things down.
But it has always been there - this pen collecting frenzy.
I go to conferences, exhibitions, demonstrations, programs and if there are free pens involved I come home with my fair allotment and maybe a few more if they happen to be some loose or left over. (I can now see you checking your pocket to make sure I haven’t ‘borrowed’ you pen).
My most recent trip to a Presbyterian Women training as I was leaving the speaker handed me a handful of PW pens and said, “Do you want these? I have been trying to get rid of them.” Well that was a silly question and of course I thanked her as I took them. More pens for the coffee cups!
Needless to say, I have lots of pens and most of them can be found in a coffee cup somewhere altho recently as I was cleaning out a cabinet I found a whole shoe box of pens…..
I was actually writing something the other day. Had my legal pad out and I was scribbling away with a pen grabbed from the closest coffee cup but the pen I had taken out of the closest coffee cup was not writing well. Knowing I had a bazillion other pens one would have thought I would just toss this underperforming pen and grab another one.
Of course not! I was not going to give up on this pen and so for the rest of the afternoons pen writing chore I needed to do, I struggled along with that pen, writing, shaking it, wiping off the tip, scratching along knowing that there is a good possibility I would not be able to even read all these notes I was taking with this less than perfect pen…
That is what God does with us. God never gives up on us even when we aren’t able to really do the things we think we ought to to, need to do, or even want to do for the Lord. God never gives up on us when we try to do what we believe God calls us to do and it doesn’t work out as it should, or we end up not being able to do what we think we can or should, or we try to do it and we really mess it up.
It doesn’t matter. God will always, always, always, regardless of anything, hold us dear to him.

Devotion March 20, 2019

What do you do with old coffee cups?  I’m not talking about coffee cups that you just don’t use anymore - but coffee cups that have cracks and chips and handles missing, especially the ones with the handles missing.  I’m expecting that if I could hear your responses most of you would say something practical like - we throw them away….. Makes sense.
Not me.  It is not that I am a hoarder but with few exceptions all the coffee cups I have are coffee cups obtained from places I have lived or destinations I have visited; or touristy locations my children have visited because when they decided to bring a momento back to dear ole’ Mom they would bring me a coffee cup.  
So when one of these coffee cups develops a problem which makes them un coffee drinkable - because I do put away my fair share of coffee - I hesitate to throw them away because they are items which bring back memories.  I have a couple broken cups from the Observatory where my husband use to work; and a broken cup from the Marine Chaplain office at Camp Lejuene which has quite the story behind it…..  I have several broken Presbyterian Coffee cups which one would expect considering my profession.
So what I have done is repurposed these broken coffee cups which sadly can no longer be used for coffee drinking.  If you would ever see my desk (I pretty well keep my desk from public scrutiny because it is rather scattered.  There is this malady I have which prevents me from putting one thing away before I move onto the next which I guess if you saw my desk and if you dug through you could figure out everything I had been working on!) on my desk are currently four broken coffee cups.  One has pencils and one has pens and one has markers and such and one has accessories such as scissors and a hole punch and various tools such as that.  (I’m assuming you actually believe that these coffee cups are that well organized……).  But the point is the coffee cups are now serving a purpose other than their intended purpose but they are fulfilling that purpose very well!
If you go into my home, you will find much the same thing.  There are coffee cups in every room of writing implements and office tools and various other quickly needed items.  However at home the coffee cups have spread out their usefulness.  Many of my broken coffee cups have become plant holders (obviously only the handleless and chipped ones because if I used the cracked ones there would be no water left in the cup and the plant would not be very happy,)
Most rooms have at least one coffee cup containing water and a plant.  My intention was for the plant to be a temporary resident of the cup until it was well rooted and I could transfer it to some dirt and a nice ‘real’ pot of its own.  However over the years I have left some of those plants in the water in their cup because they are very happy there with no signs of really desiring dirt or a pot of their own so they remain in their handleless broken coffee cup from somewhere in my past and they are very happy!  
Scattered around my home are coffee cups from my college and my college years and from the rock and roll hall of fame and  my one trip to a Nascar race and several others that I cannot currently recall (which means that now I will be forced to walk around my house looking at coffee cups because I will ponder which other ones are there as I try to be productive and get work done this morning)….
There are times when we feel broken and chipped and cracked and our obvious conclusion is that in our brokenness and our chippedness and our crackedness we are no longer useful.  Somehow we think that if we aren’t able to do the things we have always done before; or if we can’t do the things we want to do; or we can’t do the things we think we ought to be doing that we are no longer valuable, that we are no longer necessary, that we are no longer needed or that we are no longer worth anything.
You are not what you did or think you should have done or think you ought to still be doing.  Your identity is not in what you do, your identity is you.  My broken coffee cup is still from Magnetic Hill even though now it is a plant rooter rather than a coffee holder.  
You are a valuable child of God even if you can’t get on a 5 foot ladder and wash your windows; you are still a valuable child of God even if you can’t stand on your feet for 8 hours and work in retail; you are still a valuable child of God even if you can’t do everything you use to do each day.  You are still a valuable child of God even if you have been excused from your employment for whatever reason…
So take a deep breath and remember you have a God who knows every hair on your head (or every hair you use to have on your head) and knows exactly what you have done and what you are capable of and what you can do. Don’t dig in your heels and think that you are only worth something if you are doing ____. (fill in the blank).  My broken coffee cups would tell you that they are just as important to me as pencil holders as they were as coffee containers.  
And you are just as important to God regardless of what you can or can’t do, are able or aren’t able to do…..

Deotion March 13, 2019

>> It was a bit foggy this morning and that reminded me again of the fog in Galveston when I was there a month or so ago.  Fog like I had never seen or experienced before.  Fog literally so thick you could not see your hand in front of your face - depending of course on how far from your face you were holding your hand but you really didn’t have to hold it too far in order not to see it.
>> My daughter and I first noticed the fog when we rented our car and left the airport in Houston.  It was a little foggy but nothing to really raise one’s worry radar, but as the evening progressed and it began to get dark the fog got thicker and thicker and thicker and thicker and I am not exaggerating and I would probably add a couple more thickers to the list and still not really give you the scope of this fog. 
>> Being the excellent driver she is, my daughter managed to get us to the hotel through the fog and rain with even a stop at What-a-Burger (we had to take in the local culture!) and Target along the way although it was pretty difficult even seeing these places so the fact she found them was pretty remarkable.
>> What was even more remarkable about this fog is that it never left.  I’m use to fog that burns off (wonder where that term ‘burns off’ in relation to fog came from cause it doesn’t really burn?) during the day.  This fog did not let up one iota during the day. You couldn’t see anything, literally, off the balcony of the hotel - just a gray wall; walking to our conference was pretty tricky because there were streets to cross where you really couldn’t see; fog, dense, dense fog.
>> About 3 days into this fog devastation the weather was actually warm enough for me to sit out on the balcony, not that there was any view because all you could see was this dense fog, but I had a break in the classes and being outside instead of inside seemed like the thing to do. And the most amazing thing happened - I’m not even sure I can do it justice in describing this event.
>> So I am sitting on the balcony, drinking a cup of coffee, staring at the fog when all of a sudden the temperature just changed - it was almost instantaneous, like someone dumping a bucket of ice over you.  Bam!  Warm then Cold - real cold. I was so amazed that I sat there in the cold for a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on.  And then, I noticed the fog moving.  It was literally like a hand was pushing the fog out to sea.  The colder it got the more the fog moved.  Not like a lifting up but literally a pushing out.  You could see this wall of fog moving, and the farther away it got the colder the air became and with only a slight break, there came rain.  So before my eyes I watched this wall of fog - which was still a wall - move out over the horizon, with a little break in between, followed closely by this wall of rain and this chilling cold.
>> I have to admit this was the most bizarre thing I have ever witnessed.  In literally the span of about 20 minutes, the fog left and went over the horizon, the temperature dropped dramatically, the rain came - and the good news was I could now see the sea and the waves and the sand on the shore and the edge of my balcony. 
>> It took rain and cold, but the fog was gone…..
>> This happens so often in our lives.  We just can’t see clearly and we pray to God to help us see and understand and to know.  We ask God to give us some type of clarity - or at least some peace to help us with the fog that surrounds our thoughts and our thinking and our emotions. 
>> But way too often this clarity and this understanding and this peace comes only after we have had to go through something that has been very difficult; something has happened to cause us stress or grief or has hurt our heart. And in that grief or that stress or that hurt, we begin to feel the presence of God like we never had before. 
>> There comes this feeling of God surrounding us and what it took to open our senses to his presence was trauma and sadness and problems….
>> No one wants to experience something difficult in their lives; no one wants to go through times of weariness and grim darkness - but often that is the very path that will take us to being able to truly see God in our lives.
>> Amen!

Devotion March 6, 2019

Today is Ash Wednesday - aptly named because the day has everything to do with ashes…. actual ashes.  The ashes come from the palm branches that are used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration which makes storing the palm branches an issue cause you have to remember where you put them so that you can find them when Ash Wednesday rolls around almost a year later. More than one year the palm branches have been misplaced (I say misplaced because the branches do seem to turn up sometime during the year - but after the needed date of Ash Wednesday!).  After a huge panic some 15 years ago regarding Ash Wednesday because the palm branches couldn’t be located I have kept in my house a couple of vases which contain palm branches.  They are good decoration and they are my ‘back ups’ should the need arise.  
I realize you can buy ashes but there just isn’t something right about that…. they aren’t ‘our’ ashes; there isn’t quite the same meaning as knowing that those you are close to in your congregation actually held and waved these palm branches during the worship service the previous year…. but if the need is there for some quick ashes their is a recourse of pre-made ashes!
I keep thinking that maybe what I should do is go ahead and burn the palm branches during Holy Week and then store just the ashes - but I am afraid the same thing would happen.  I’d get all organized and have the ashes already prepared and I wouldn’t need to worry about where the palm branches were…. but then I think that I would just probably forget where I had so purposefully put the ashes so I would still end up in a panic and there is also that tradition thing in me that just needs to burn the ashes the day before Ash Wednesday cause that is how I have always done it and that is how most of my minister friends do it - and you know how important it is to do something like it has always been done…….
The actual burning of the palm branches, then, is always an adventure.  Every year there seems to be an issue that has to be resolved.  There actually was one year that I could not get them to burn at all so I had to use some magic get the fire going fluid and then I wondered if I had crossed some great theological barrier that would cause my parishioners to not really be properly ashed….
This year it all went pretty well.  I went to Dollar Tree and bought the aluminum pan like I always use (I actually have a minister friend who bought one of those old domed charcoal grills he keeps in the corner of his garage for just this use!).  I placed the container and my branches on my sidewalk, broke up the branches into mostly leaves and set it on fire!  And it burned!  And I worried as I always do that someone is going to call the fire department or the police or something “That lady is doing something weird on her sidewalk…..”.  The branches burned well and after a short period of time  I had a pan full of palm branch ash!  
Now came the only issue I had with my ash burning this year - and if I only have one issue I’m pretty excited.  I didn’t want to go to the next step of Ash Wednesday Ash preparation just then because I had good clothes on and I needed to go a few places and see people and I didn’t want to look like I had just come from the ash heap so I put the container of ashes on my porch - as I walked away I looked back and noticed that the wind was trying its best to blow all my newly burnt ashes away… my special last year’s palm branch ashes were soon to be ashes in the wind!  After a quick response I rescued my ash container and saved the ashes  Whew!
The next step is to then get my special container (It has a fancy religious name that I can never remember) that is designed especially for the Ash Wednesday service ashes (It is a very pretty ceramic cup with a lid that someone gave me years ago).  I put on my plastic gloves, covered myself in my washable black coat - because I always end up with ashes all over me - and then attempt to get the ashes into the special container.  It is much harder than you think because ashes don’t really pour and even if I tried I’m sure there would be more ashes around me than in my special ash container!  So very carefully and slowly with my plastic disposable spoon the ashes were transferred into their special container and ready to be imposed onto foreheads…..
Sometimes we wonder about what God thinks about these rituals and ceremonies we go through.  But I think God is quite pleased that we take the time to come out to the church to go through a service that is designed to make us a little sad as we consider our sin and the cost of our sin.  I think God is pleased that we are willing to begin a time of reflection and thought and consideration of who we are as compared to who God is.   I think God is glad any time we gather together to honor him and strive to bring our relationship closer with our God and with one another.
Ash Wednesday seems like a strange time; like a strange ritual; but it is truly an opportunity to remember the God who gave us his son so that we can live eternally with him regardless of how unworthy we are...