A Quiet Night and Peace at the Last

The howling wind has ceased. The breaking waves in the river have subsided. Stars are out. Tideland EMC has the power turned on. Lucky – my skittish dog who has sat in my lap all day as Michael blew through – has finally been outside to do his business. All is right with the world.

Following Florence, Tom fixed screens on our front porch. Folly. They wave in the breeze tonight. The pile of debris all stacked neatly near the garage after Florence clean up is now scattered again down the road. Folly.

The lights went our here just before dark. I still had time to get out the lanterns and flashlights. Of course this pastor had candles and matches – just in case worship broke out. Actually it did.

I chose not to get out for Happy Time or dinner with my daughter. The wind was just too scary. Rather, I chose to sit with my candles and play my piano, a piano that sat in my office for years, a piano that has not been tuned since I bought it from Nancy Stagner. I could hear the flat in my ears, but I heard the melody in my heart. It is well. It is well with my soul. Amazing Grace. Then to the Christmas tunes. Silent Night. And of course, Frosty the Snowman.

Peanut Butter was my supper by candlelight tonight. Crunchy. JIF. I didn’t want to open the fridge in case electricity was out for a long time. Then I went out on the front porch. Wind was blowing water out of the river. The sand was smooth and the water rippled, worn out after a fierce day. I prayed at the now screen-less opening in the porch. I prayed for all who suffered in this storm and in the storm just past, Florence. I prayed for all the people who suffered in Florence and Michael and the G, H, I, J, K, and L storms that somebody endured.

I stood thinking about the awesome power of creation, and the benevolence of the Creator who brings out the stars after the storm to remind us that God is with us. Recovery will be hard; adaptation will be needed. Faith in a future with hope is the most necessary thing we need. Science needs no more evidence than what we have seen with our own eyes in the past few years that change is upon us.

Jesus’s parable about the wise man and the foolish man speaks to us today. Tom and I have built a house on the sand. It stands tonight, battered and bruised as a consequence and casualty of nature. Cambelot, our precious home on the Neuse River, is folly that is ours to ponder.

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Proverbs

Tonight hurricane Florence is making her way through North Carolina. Her guile is becoming obvious. Not only has she destroyed a lot of the Carolina coast, but now her rain dump into tributaries and rivers is beginning to wreak havoc on the goodliest land, precious places that many of us in eastern North Carolina love.

My husband and I have owned property along the Neuse River since 1969. We built a little house when our daughter was 6 months old. Every year we would add a little something to the house….. flooring, ceiling, heat, a front porch. We loved our life there. The Britts at Easter. The Youngs with continuing conversation about how many days of garbage one trash compactor bag will hold, Bo’s 40th birthday party on the front porch… all the people who filled our lives and shared our joy under the big sky, swimming in the sandy bottomed river.

When Tom’s aunt died, we bought her house that stood about 30 feet from the river. It was 1996. Mother Teresa and Lady Diana died and we remodeled. Not in time for my Mother to enjoy. She never knew we put a handicapped shower in for her. For almost 50 years we have loved and worked to steward property that from the beginning we knew was precious and fragile.

We have weathered storms along our shores. We tried to stay through Dennis. We stood at the edge of our deck trying to push portions of our neighbor’s piers away. It was harrowing. We decided at 2:00 AM to leave. We drove to Greenville where Tom’s parents lived at the time and bunked there till the storm was over.

Storm lessons are hard to learn. I remember Hazel in 1954, and others in the alphabet of destruction along the eastern seaboard. Isobel and Irene were storms the people in our beloved Pamlico County still have never really recovered from. And even beyond Matthew, now there is Florence, a nice genteel southern name, Florence. She has wreaked havoc on our coast, and especially along our beloved river Neuse.

I will tell you that all along the Florence journey, a word from Proverbs 31 has been in my heart. Proverbs 31: 25 – “Strength and dignity are Wisdom’s clothing; and she laughs at the time to come.” As I sit tonight beneath clouds and falling rain, having seen pictures of destruction to our own property and to property of those we love, I know that just beyond the clouds there is a waxing moon and there is a summer sky of constellations waiting to sing and shout to a down-hearted people, “Glory!” Hear the voice of God in the turbulence, ”I am the Lord, your God. You are my beloved. I am holding you in my care.”

As long as the peace of God endures (which is like forever), we on this side of the storm can find joy and delight in what still is. And we will carry on. Life is too good not to. Peace in the night dear ones. All is well.

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She Who Bakes Bread

Her first call was to ask me to pray for a young man who had been her student many years ago. He was 31 now and just diagnosed with acute leukemia. I added him to my prayer list; she who bakes bread fed her bread starter in meditation and prayer, waiting for more news.

The next day, she who bakes bread called to tell me Chris had died. One day after diagnosis, he was gone. Lost to the world too soon, his potential, hopes, and dreams shut down as quickly as his organs failed. The bread was rising all the time. As she who bakes bread and I talked, we talked about all the young people who die too soon and all the old people who seem to keep living in smaller and smaller worlds. She said goodbye quickly to turn and knead the dough and grease the pans and turn the oven on.

Kneading bread – pressing air out, punching it down and patting down the action, covering and waiting for the rising to happen. She who bakes bread was living the way of life, and baking her way to comfort and offer hope in the face of death. She said she would take lots of bread over for Chris’s family, just as she had taken bread to Avis’s family and many other families who in facing death, need a taste of the bread of life.

I am not a bread baker. I do not understand bread starters or the action of the yeast, or how to knead till the dough is just right. But I see in the work of she who bakes bread the metaphor of Christ’s work in the world. This world knocks us down, squeezes the life out of us sometimes, even unto death. And we wait for the rising to happen.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Those who come to me shall never hunger; those who believe in me shall never thirst.” A big slice of warm homemade bread with butter melting on it is the blessing of the holy in our midst. She who bakes bread gives witness to the Christ who comforts the brokenhearted. Many thank her; I give thanks for her, she who bakes bread, for she is my sister.

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Navigating the Shoals

North Carolina’s coastline had been known for years, longer than I have been alive, as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Now, that does not have the same appeal as being known as the Garden State, or the Gold Coast or even the Tar Heel state, which at least gives us a fighting chance for positive self-identification. Graveyards are not everybody’s favorites. Let’s be honest.

A conversation this weekend with a young man I dearly love made me think of the graveyard moniker. He has run into a rough patch at work. Same is true for the girl across the street. And the college student who sits on my porch and the 96 year old woman who sits isolated in the silence of deafness, and the woman whose prayer request at church today was for a husband with stage 4 throat cancer, and a dear former parishioner whose colon cancer is so closing in, her life is short and may be ended even as I write ….. and so it goes … on and on and on.

I have long said in my ministry, that every day is blessing and Christ is joy and love and the perfect expression of God in the world, but that human suffering is our common denominator. There are shoals in our lives, various sand bars and shifting sands where we get stuck, the places where we are stopped in our tracks by illness, ill will, disappointment, rejection, self-doubt. These places are our shoals, our graveyards because they kill our spirits, our hopes, our confidence, our dreams. So how do we navigate such treacherous waters?

My family will roll their eyes at me (Mom, don’t go all churchy on us) when I say this. I come to this conclusion fully knowing my own shortcomings and my own struggles with the shoals. I do not say this with any great piety or pride. I am least and lowliest, but I know as I write tonight, a Great Light stands. And just like people who built the great lighthouses along the North Carolina coast knew, only a Beacon in the night can direct a struggling sailor through the shoals to calm waters and peaceful passage home. I know that if I look for Jesus, who is the Christ, the Light and the Beacon in the darkness, I will not be stuck in the sand but just so long.

Maybe when Jesus said in the Gospel of John, I am the way… I am the Light. he knew then that Oneness with God was the ballast and the compass, and the depth finder, and the Lighthouse that would lead us through rough seas and troubled waters.

My heart sings tonight “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea, Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.” Stand by me – In the midst of tribulation, in the midst of faults and failures, when I growing old and feeble and my life becomes a burden, stand by me. Charles Tindley from the early 19th century knew about navigating the shoals as he wrote these lyrics and tune. May God bless us in this 21st century to claim a rudder, hoist a sail and open our eyes to see the Light on the shoreline just ahead.

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A Time of Re-Becoming

A few weeks ago, I was at my home church in Ayden preaching the funeral of a dear childhood friend. As I mingled among the people there – other classmates and old friends – I thought about how in that place at that time, I was re-becoming Libby Stroud. Once again I was that girl in her hometown and her home church with her classmates from Ayden High School. I was in that place where I did not need to introduce myself or posit my credentials or perform in any way and I realized that in that place, I re-became just me.

There is something about being known that removes old have-to’s and shoulds of becoming something or someone parents can be proud of and brag on. Something about being old helps with that too. Stepping back into my life as Libby, not Lib or Elizabeth immediately filled me with great thanksgiving for my life in that place that prepared me for the life I live now. I am re-becoming in a lot of ways now.

Re-becoming is the gift of re-tirement. In my retirement I am getting to re-become Libby Stroud. I am re-becoming a homemaker and cook. I am re-becoming a wife and cheerleader to my husband. I am re-becoming a voice for justice, even re-becoming a protester. I like the re-becoming of Libby Stroud.

Even the re-freshing of my faith is part of re-becoming. That which sometimes became stale, words I had spoken that I must have spoken a thousand times before are finding new life in a re-becoming voice. I visit the hospital to see a friend and go to the nursing home to see a person I love, just because I love them. Nothing is expected of me save that which my own faith calls forth. My soul is being renewed in this time of re-becoming. In my re-becoming I can live a now without worrying about the next.

I can preserve pears and figs, and jars of red and green peppers into relish, and delight in God’s bounty right here, right now. The time afforded in re-becoming is measured in joy and thanksgiving. Small delights fill the blank canvas of the day. I am re-connecting with God’s goodness, with old friends, with my children and grandchildren and my husband who is glad to have me home again.

When the psalmist says, “my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the Living God,” I also sing. Stepping off the stage into what seems like a true first becoming is a great gift that I am fully aware of. I recognize the limitations of age and stage, yet what I see ahead is bright with possibility and deep with gratitude. Where this re-becoming will lead is in God’s hands. I am still listening and spending time percolating and sitting like a toad in the middle of the room. I feel full of wisdom and hope; I like the Libby Stroud I am.

 

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Count Me a Heretic

Recent headlines in the news show a group of pastors praying and laying hands over President Donald Trump. I was not present and do not know their prayers; they were not praying to me. In a more recent headline, the Reverend William Barber calls their prayers “heresy,” explicitly saying that it is heresy to pray for one who “preys” on the most marginalized among us. Truthfully his statement strikes me as a little pot and kettle proclamation.

It is one thing to speak justice into injustice and righteousness into wrongdoing in another person’s actions and policies and perhaps even politics. It is quite another to name call, smear, call others evil and take a self-righteous stance that pits people against one another, increasing bunkers of suspicion and hate.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, gathering crowds around Galilee is teaching the ways of the kingdom to eager listeners. They follow him to the mountain coming from different places – locations around the region and locations of the heart. From Jesus’ mouth they hear a call to prayer. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be called children of God.” Jesus reminds the people that God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good; God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

My prayers for the leaders of the world, including President Trump, are for God’s inclined ear only. I understand that God does not play politics, but speaks into a political world in acts of kindness, mercy, love, and grace. Name-calling does not influence for good; it divides and does not lead to reconciliation or righteousness.

I doubt my prayers would sound like those of pastors who want God to act according to their will whichever side of the aisle they pray from. I pray God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. I pray my prayers voice the hope God has that we can be one people in Christ and that we can learn to listen to one another with grace.

Gracious God, fill my mouth with praise that even in the thick of acrimony and judgment, You are with us. Give me great wisdom and humility and charity for those whose opinions differ from mine. Lead me in ways of justice, kindness and mercy that divisions may end and I – and all of us – will be the beloved of your creation. If this is heresy, count me a heretic. Amen.

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Woman in the Yellow Shirt

I saw you today in the Orlando Airport. You were holding back tears as you talked to someone to the phone. You had a yellow shirt and a yellow legal pad and you wept as you wrote. I thought about walking over to you and saying to you, “I am a Methodist Pastor, can I sit with you for a moment and hear what is going on in your life?” Then my inner voice spoke to me, or maybe it was God. Lib, you don’t need to know what is going on in her life. I know what is going on that makes her so sad. All you need to do is hold her in your prayer and mind. I have this, God said.

What is it in my own ego that needs to take the work that is God’s to do into my own hands as if I am the Savior? Had I gone over, she would have been singled out, perhaps felt like she was a spectacle. And I would have intruded and inserted myself into some kind of pain that God already knew about, something that only God could heal. My prayer, my holding this stranger in my heart was what I needed to do. I was amazingly restrained not showing my piety and healing powers to the whole people gathered at Gate 127.

Scripture teaches, “Beware of practicing your piety before others…” Forgive me, God, for needing to practice piety, and garner praise for whatever compassion I display. Create in me a heart that trusts you to do the work of healing and holding this woman in the yellow shirt in whatever loss that envelopes her this night. All I have to do is pay attention to the hurt and lift the pain to your care, which is far beyond anything I can do or say. Only You heal; only you bring true comfort and peace.

Grant me discernment to enter a situation when I know I am called to it, and to stay on the second row in quiet prayer when a disturbance or embarrassment would call more attention to me than to You or to the hurt at hand.

When we exited the plane in Raleigh this afternoon, the stewardess said to the woman in the yellow shirt, “Have a good day.” The woman replied, “I am going to try to do just that.” Encounters that change us, that give us a glimpse of the sacredness of life, and the ways we travel together in this muddle of goodness and loss, these encounters are not always kum ba yah, person to person conversations. Sometimes these encounters are on a plane of unknowing, a place of recognizing the Divine between two total strangers who shared space and the human condition created and called good even when no credit is ascribed, except to God.

Whatever loss you have met today, Dear Lady in the Yellow Shirt, I pray peace for you this night and rest knowing you are not alone, but held by a communion you don’t even know. Amen.

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I Did. I Do. I Will.

Today is December 29, 2016. It’s a Thursday, our 51st Wedding Anniversary. Tom and I got married after Christmas, because I wanted to be at home for Christmas in Ayden with Mother and Daddy just one more time. Mother decorated the house that year with white poinsettias, gold reindeer and a white velvet Santa. It seems like such a long time ago, much water over the dam or under the bridge. We were remembering our rehearsal party, held at the home of a family friend. It was the first time either of us had tasted coffee punch. Loaded with vanilla ice cream, it was such a treat.

Our wedding day breakfast was for family and out of town guests at a place called the Candlewick Inn in Greenville. The restaurant was straight out of Williamsburg and decorated with antiques from the colonial period. It was perfect considering we were honeymooning in Williamsburg beginning that very night. The three o’clock wedding was at the Ayden Christian Church. Ralph Messick officiated; Joe Ray sang. Daddy cried and Tom beamed. It was a lovely time of friends and family gathered. People still had Christmas lights and trees up; the world sparkled.

We have seen a lot of sparkle through the years, and we have seen a lot of tarnish. Young love is shiny, new with adventure and discovery. Reality sets in early, like when the first big insurance payment comes due. And that doesn’t compare at all to a first child. The years add up with lessons learned, blessings abound alongside hard knocks, financial crises, health issues. With it all comes growth and maturity that teaches us what real love is. Real love is as much about commitment as it is love; it is about honor and respect and “plowing to the end of the row,” as Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 9. Tom and I were very young when we married, 20 and 19. What we did, I likely would not recommend to everybody. What I would recommend is finding a mate who shares the same values as you, a mate who is interesting to talk to and interested in learning and growing with you. Saying “I Do”ups the relationship ante.

The fruit of our “I Do” is seen in a family we love, good work we are given to do, and a continuing love of life and of God, plus a lot of fun, laughter, and good conversation. That there is never a shortage of opinion in our household is not a surprise to anyone who knows us. On this, my 51st wedding anniversary, I say to you, dear husband: I did love you in 1965 when this all began. I do love you and honor you more today than I did even then. I will love you as long as I have breath. Happy Anniversary, dear One.

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Delight and Detachment

The necklace was an exquisite Mother-of Pearl cross, adorned with silver filigree decoration. It was a gift to me from Jeanne, a dear and cherished friend. I love her and I loved the necklace. I saved it and wore it on special occasions. I delighted in having it as my own.

I wore the much-loved necklace to a retreat that was being led by Roberta, another much loved person in my life. As we were conversing at the end of one of the sessions, she noticed the necklace. She lifted the cross, touching it in an admiring caress. I don’t really know where the urge to give it to her came from. After she walked away, I held the cross in a great possessiveness that truthfully is not a holy act.

At lunch, I told Jeanne about what had happened. She said, “Lib, this is about detachment. Are you able to detach?” There was no, “If you give it away my feelings would be hurt.” Or, “You will miss this necklace when it is gone.” Just, “What about your ability to detach?” Obviously, my ability to detach is lacking and needs some real and quick soul searching.

In our retreat, the centering word for the weekend was: Wisdom. Is it wise to love the things of the world more than we love the people with whom we share the planet? Is it wise to collect and consume and hold onto possessions so tightly we forget the delight of sharing and giving? Are my hands so tightly fisted around my stuff, that I have forgotten that it is not mine to begin with; it is first God’s.

Oh, to have eyes opened in a simple question is the way God works to keep me at the task. At lunchtime on the day of the retreat, I gave the necklace to Roberta. This is what I wrote in my journal that afternoon: Lord, God, thank you for a new delight in seeing something precious to me worn around the neck of someone who is even more precious to me. Seeing the necklace on her gives me a new perspective on its beauty, and a special joy from the observer’s seat. Thank you for giving me strength to detach and pass along a gift of love.

Wisdom asks:  What else am I possessive about? What other things have such hold on me I find detachment difficult? How much can I carry and tend? How much is enough? What is my perspective when I am up to the gills in things?

“Give me everything; give me nothing” is John Wesley’s covenant prayer. Joy in life is never “give me everything that I may stockpile treasure all unto myself.”

Detachment leads to a freeing delight and a shared joy. A beautiful possession taught me that lesson. Now there are three of us who are connected in the delight of it all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The above blog was written after a February Retreat. The following paragraph is being written on April 16, a few days before Easter 2014.

Lectio divina at Saint Mark’s was powerful yesterday. Reflection in Psalm 31 led me to the phrase, “my times are in your hands.” I spent the hour reflecting on how much I work to manipulate time and control it. My reflection led me to words of wisdom to consider: abide, Sabbath, presence, listen. Another word comes to me this morning: Thanksgiving. Here’s why.

After lectio, Jeanne asked to meet me in the Labyrinth. She had a small bag with a yellow ribbon to give me. She told me it was a little something from the “Easter Bunny.” I did not open it until last night about eleven o’clock. It was too late to call her, and besides, I was crying too much. In the brown paper, under the white tissue, wrapped tenderly and with love was a second Mother-of Pearl Cross, exactly like the one she had given me before… exactly like the one I had given to Roberta. I was humbled and blown away in the thoughtfulness and generosity of Jeanne’s act of love.

What a magnificent lesson of God’s love lived out before my eyes. Delight and detachment are joined together where love is lived. The greater gift here is the friendship and love shared. Lord, thank you for my friend, thank you for the gifts, thank you for the lessons that call me beyond myself into trusting all that I am, and all my times into your hands.

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And Richard

The way I signed the family mail at Christmas… Christmas Blessings to you and yours from Tom, Lib, Lisa, and Richard… It was the same with Easter cards, Birthday and Mother’s and Father’s Day cards from 1972 forward until all were educated, married, and setting up households of their own. Tom, Lib, Lisa, and Richard is who we were. The nuclear family… the Fab Four of the original household of Tom and Lib.

I remember part of the poem I wrote when Richard was about ten years old and it struck me that he was always “and Richard” as if he were some addendum to what was already. I could not find the poem tonight; it is carefully stored somewhere in the volumes of writing I have scattered in journals through the years. But I remember the sentiment.

This boy who was and is in my heart for all his life was never an addendum. He was more like a ventricle pumping life and goodness into our family from his beginning. “And Richard” was the completion our family found in his birth 42 years ago come 2 o’clock a.m. on April 9. His sister was one of his great welcomers into the world. She held him in the car on the way home from the hospital. (Don’t tell OSHA.) She was not only his sister, but a true part of his early motherhood shared with me.

His growing up was filled with joy and challenge. Our neighbors said he was an adult living in a child’s body. His wit and wisdom were born into him. His fourth grade teacher said having him in the room with her was like having another adult there, one who understood nuanced humor and could banter like a grown up. He took on care and concern and worry early in his life; it still keeps him awake in the night.

He answers his own call to ministry serving as an active lay person in the church, a music leader, teacher, and worship leader. He bears deep concern for the church and the future of the faith. Wonder where he got that? His entrepreneurial spirit was born into him, a gift from his father. We saw it when we were on a trip to Thomas Edison’s summer home and laboratory. On the way home he designed inventions for 12 hours. He’s still doing that kind of work. Apples do not fall far from trees after all.

We knew his gifts for the world, what we did not know was how he would direct them through his adult life. He has blessed us in the witness of his life with his marriage and family – all spectacular in my book. He blesses us in the way he conducts his professional life, creative, kind, fair and compassionate. He works hard and I pray he is finding reward in all he is about.

Years ago he joined a band called “Mid Life Crisis.” It seemed a premature name for such young men in the group. “And Richard” is now living into the name. He wrote a song for his Granddad in 1990 about how he was glad he was born to be a grandson. I am glad Richard was born to be my son. What blessing is mine tonight as I think about him and give thanks for him.

Words from Psalm 118 ring in my heart tonight…”O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” Life and love continue forever in God’s plan. We are blessed when we abide in the knowledge of God’s goodness and love. “And Richard” reminds me of God’s goodness all around.

April 9, 2014 is Richard’s 42nd birthday. Thank you, God, for Tom, Lisa, and – especially tonight – Richard. Amen.

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