Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stories that Shape Us

  As humans we are shaped and live by our stories. My childhood was filled with the stories told to me of our family, by my grandparents and great-grandparents. Family stories told at family gatherings and around the kitchen table. Our family stories help us interpret how life is or how life ought to be and shape our identity as a member of our extended family.

  One tradition, I remember the most in my early life was during the period in and around Memorial Day. As a family, we would travel to the variety of cemeteries where family members were buried. Many were graves of relatives who died long before I was born, but during these moments at graveside, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents would tell me old family stories of the family members I never knew. My grandmother would often open up during these visits and tell me family stories, I believe, upon later reflection she probably regretted having told me, but they were good stories.


  As a child, I was not always as attentive to remembering these stories as I wish now I had been. Many of the stories I do remember are the ones that were repeated multiple times. As I got older, I would often ask someone to repeat a story I could only partly recall. These were the moments, when I would discover my grandmother had second thoughts of having told me the story the first time. I often asked my parents to retell me some these stories, I had only vague memories of hearing and discover no one had told them the whole story.

  We are naturally drawn to stories and once heard, we have a feeling that compels us to seek their conclusion, because stories are exciting. As we get older and enter the life of the community where we live, the church we serve, and the family we create, we gain our own personal experiences which are transformed into our own personal and family stories. As we gain significant life experiences, they begin to shape us and mold our faith and life and we, in turn, build them into our own stories. For example, I have told many stories over the years about my experiences of working as an addiction's counselor. The stories of those individuals who freely shared their stories and experiences confronting the struggles and challenges of recovery from alcohol and other drug problems helped me better understand how God works in the world and how these stories shaped my view of forgiveness, redemption, faith, love and grace.

  You remember these experiences of your life, as a narrative. The impact these experiences have upon you helps to burn into your memory all the specific details, who was there, what was said, how you felt, the relationships that developed, the lessons you learned, the moments of grace and love you experienced and so much, much more. We turn everything into a story, in order, to make sense of life and our place within it. Our stories help us navigate our world, to understand right and wrong, be grateful for grace and love experienced and to provide meaning.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Blessings, Saints and Grace

“What is unique about a moment that has the power to bless us and the potential to feed us is not so much in the power of the moment itself, but rather the quality of the presence we bring to that moment. Our presence can change an ordinary, unnoticed moment into a moment of beauty that can feed the soul. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary.” - Macrina Wiederkehr

BillLilCleggs  This past week Karen and I traveled to Logan, WV to attend a funeral at the First Presbyterian Church where I served as pastor from 2002-2008. A good friend and church member Lillian Clegg had passed away the prior Friday. Lillian had meant a great deal to me and Karen during our time in Logan and in the years after.

  Her husband, Bill who passed away last May were two wonderful members within the life of the church. Both served with dedication and joy in many aspects of the church's life, giving of themselves in the music ministry of the church, serving in the operation of the Food Pantry, and regular members of the Bible Builders Sunday School class for decades. I have only listed a few of the many ways they contributed to building up the common ministry of the First Presbyterian Church. Their service and influence was far and wide both in the church and community. When I was new to the congregation, Lil was one of a few persons within the congregation I could call when I had questions about the church's practices and customs in years past and getting to know the people within the church.

  Our trip to Logan was both a mixture of sadness and joy. We last had the chance to sit down and talk to Bill and Lil three years ago during our last visit to Logan and it was now a sad trip, because we both realized we would no longer have the opportunity to sit down and speak to them again in this life.

  There was also joy because we had the chance to once again renew friendships among many other members of the church we loved as we together served within Christ's church. Karen and I both loved and respected these individuals at the church and we missed them greatly. If not for health issues I had which made living in southern WV impossible I had intended to serve there until retirement.

  Our trip to Logan reminded me of the many blessings I have been given in my life. Particularly, the blessings of people God has introduced me to along my spiritual journey. In the life of each congregation I have served I have been blessed by the witness and service of those who lived out their lives in Christ, both locally, in the presbytery, synod and beyond and within their communities. Their witness as disciples of Christ taught me lessons in grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, hope and faith. They enabled me to reflect upon the important questions and aspects of discipleship while widening and deepening my faith and spiritual formation. They also provided me countless sermon stories and illustrations during the past 30+ years.

  When I was younger I had hoped that God would allow me the opportunity to serve a single congregation for 30+ years, but I discovered God had different plans. The plan to learn about God's people and their struggles, their sins, their hopes, their transformations, and how amazing God's grace truly is. God seemed to say to me, “Lee, you need to hit the road, I have got some wonderful people for you to meet” and what a wonderful trip it has been and continues to be. God was abundantly blessed me through all the wonderful disciples of Christ I have been privileged to get to call my friends. Friends who have left me with wonderful memories, amazing stories, lasting impressions on how to lead a life of faithfulness, steadfast love and grace.

  Grace refers to all those unearned blessings that help make us who we are. As a person who has been abundantly blessed I recognize that I am called to show gratitude and be a blessing to others. I, both strive and struggle with how to bless others and share the wonderful experience of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. How to share with them that life which can become deeply enriching to their lives by being surrounded by others within the community of faith. I see each day individuals who are attempting to find blessing in all the wrong places and in things in which only separate us from the love of God. My greatest hope and prayer is they will discover the opportunity to experience the same great blessings I have experienced. My joy and blessings have came to me through the honor of knowing a few of God's saints, like, Bill and Lil, Earl and Suzanne, Jack, Radine, Bea, Fazal and many others, each day they continue to bless me and one day our joy will be complete when we are reunited in the life to come.

  “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward