A heavy snow has fallen in Winchendon Massachusetts. We got about 8 more inches of heavy wet snow along with a mix of ice.
The snow has painted everything white and crystal. It is absolutely beautiful…. and dangerous.
The branches are weighted down with the heavy white stuff. Many areas of our community lost power for almost twenty four hours and some areas just to our north have been without power now for two days.
There is a word in Hebrew for glory, “chabod”. It means “the weightiness of God’s presence”….”the heaviness of God’s presence”.
As I am walking through this first season of fasting and prayer in 2023 one of the truths I have begun to see very clearly is that the work ahead of us is filled with “chabod”. It is heavy lifting. It is work that is beyond me or us. It is breakthrough in a region that currently walks with the burden of massive addiction, abuse and mental illness. I am feeling in my spirit that the time has come for the church to step up and out of its comfort zone into the place of joining with the rest of our community to address the deep needs of our region. We bring to the table the power of our God. If we do not step up or if we fail at this endeavor I sense that our community may well break, like so many of our grand trees, under the weight of these heavy burdens.
Everything in me cries for comfort from the weight of the work I see ahead and yet there is this space in my heart that is filled with an incredible sense of anticipation for the answers to so many of the prayers we have prayed over the years.
The season has changed again. We are right back to winter overnight. This is one of the warmest winters I remember. I have only worn a coat one or two days this year. Maybe it’s just my thick northern blood, but something is changing. All season we have been going back and forth between freeze and melt. Today the ground is covered with snow. Tomorrow we could be back to the mud. It’s a change.
I am currently taking part as a reader in a book launch for a friend. Poet and story teller Tracy Rittmueller has written a book of poetry entitled, Still Life, Broken and Repaired. The book is about life changes, especially those changes between life partners as aging happens. The effects of dementia on relationships is a key theme in her poetry. Right now this book is speaking to me about the plethora of changes I am walking through with my own Mom and with my life long friend Grace.
In her poem, “Healing Is a Never Ending Departure”, Tracy writes
“Life calls us to our never ending story. All is still well. Take heart, dear heart. Release, that you may heal.”
Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired.” Apple Books.
Right now life is requiring a constant releasing. My mom’s life, Grace’s life are like this winter. Some days you get warm sunshine and all is well. Other days are filled with mud and confusion. And then there are the days where the cold chill of the future just sort of sweeps over you. Each day requires a releasing of what was and an acceptance of what is now. My world is busy and grand in its smallness. On that note I leave you with these thoughts from Tracy’s poem, “In A Cove In The Yorks, Maine, I Dare To Hope Again.”
“And so I sit here for hours intent to hear the healing beginning of another pilgrimage, any conscious progress to inspire our next, necessary transformation.”
Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired final.” Apple Books.
I am embracing the change whatever it may be. I know God has us in the midst of it.
One of my goals for 2023 is to lead my church into greater community outreach. Our missions statement is,
WHILE DOING LIFE TOGETHER
WE WILL REACH THE LOST
BY SENDING THE FOUND
AS WE DISCOVER OUR GIFTS
WE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.
Some have suggested that the word lost is a “hot button” word. I think it’s honest. “Lostness” is a condition we humans often find ourselves in. It’s that place in life where we wonder “How’d I end up in this mess?” and conclude “I have no idea where to go from here.” In matters of faith to be lost means to be separated from God and being unable to find your way back to Him. As I said it’s an honest assessment of the human condition.
Foundness is another matter. I have learned well and paid the price of assuming everyone who goes to church is “found”. Foundness is not really about what a person does at all. It’s a condition of the heart. It’s that position of feeling centered…known…seen…and cherished. In matters of Christian faith it is that condition of having had an experience of meeting Christ and knowing that He is now with you on the journey of life no matter where you may go. This fulfills the old adage “not all who wander are lost”.
I long to bring the answer I have found to my lostness to my greater community, so that those who would choose it could walk into this thing I call Christian faith as well. As I have prayed one of the projects that has sparked my interest in partnership is a project our local library is doing in conjunction with the YMCA, the public school system and a local private school (called The Winchendon School), the local Community Action Center and a few other local organizations. It is called The One Book One Community Project.
The town is reading the graphic novel, HEY KIDDO. The library is hosting 5 town wide seminars throughout the winter and into the Spring to bring awareness of the book’s themes which are : domestic violence, trauma in the life of children, what makes a family, and issues surrounding addiction and the family.
I attended the first of the seminars last Saturday. It was so informative and challenging to me as a pastor. It both excited me and sobered me to what lies ahead. Here are a few of my take aways so far:
THE AMOUNT OF WORK BEFORE US IS ENORMOUS.
WE WILL NOT FINISH IT BY OURSELVES. IN FACT IT WILL NOT BE FINISHED WHEN JESUS COMES TO TAKE US HOME.
IT IS NOT OUR JOB TO FIX PEOPLE. WE ARE JUST HANDS EXTENDED.
WHERE WE CANNOT MEET A NEED THERE ARE OTHERS WHO CAN. WE HAVE TO BE WILLING TO PARTNER AND REFER.
I DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. BUT I KNOW WHO DOES.
For the director of music. Of David.
1 In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. 5 The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. 6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
I am many mornings but particularly on Sundays. I NEED to get at least two hours of prayer in before I preach at church. I find that Sunday mornings are one of the most productive periods of my week. This morning I:
read thirty pages in one of the books I have assigned myself ( I actually finished HEY KIDDO, by Jarret J. Krosczka which I am reading along with many citizens of out town in the ONE BOOK ONE COMMUNITY PROJECT sponsored by our local library)
read the Bible
Made my bed (if you want to be a success start by making your bed)
washed the dishes (I should not have left them in the sink last night
Did about 40 minutes of filing and cleaning
Fed the birds
Emptied the dehumidifier
Filled the furnace with water for the day
Had breakfast with Amanda
set up Mom’s pills and gave her her morning pills
Got myself ready for church
And now I am getting the writing done in “NOTES”!
Maybe I didn’t scale Everest, but I feel accomplished.
I was with a friend at breakfast yesterday and we were talking back to the ATOMIC HABITS class we took last year. We were talking about how making small changes really had revolutionized our lives. I am not yet at the point where every morning is like this, but at least four or five mornings a week are. That is a huge change for me and it has upped my feeling of well-being. I was going to say my productivity but as I think about this, this whole atomic habits thing has not been about productivity though I think it is definitely affecting it. It is about helping men change how I view myself and the potential God has put in me.
As I finish up this morning Mom is sitting on the couch with the cat. Mom is really frustrated with her life and what she cannot do anymore. She often gets upset about the fact that she can no longer walk much farther than the front hall. She feels less than because she sometimes needs help changing her clothes. I have praying about her quality of life and God has shown me that I might try some small things for her that can restore some of her confidence and some of her joy. I think that is why I felt so strongly about STORYWORTH this year. The weekly questions have been good to open up conversations about more than the weather. I have been jogging her memory daily and taking her back through the life she has lived. I am wondering what other small things we can do to give her more of a sense of life and hope.
I had two days of real sickness where I didn’t get out of bed. The rest of the week the sickness has been pushed back to a stuffy nose and a sometimes tickle in the throat that makes me cough.
My energy level feels good today and for that I am very happy.
However, Mom tested positive for COVID this morning . She is asymptomatic so I am praying that she stays that way.
I am still in quarantine for two more days; So Amanda has been holding down the church and doing all the errands and housework. I so appreciate this daughter of mine who is such a talented pastor and who can run things in my absence. Most of the staff also has COVID so she has been the only one in office a few days this week.
This week has also been the beginning of our church-wide 21 Days of Fasting and Prayer…. 30 hours a week of church prayer scheduled and I haven’t been able to make one session in person.
I am so grateful to Jon Bauver and his team for running these sessions with their ministry, The Worship Room.
Jon’s ministry is a missionary prayer movement dedicated to bringing twenty-four-seven prayer to our region. They opened about two years ago and they are up to twenty hours of regular prayer every week. For the next twenty-one days they have really stretched themselves towards thirty hours a week to partner with us and I so appreciate it.
Of course when the plan was laid to let The Worship Room take the lead on this year’s 21 days I had no idea I was going to be out of commission for the first whole week of the fast. BUT GOD DID!
So here I stand or sit as the case were and instead of leading prayer meetings I get to bask in the radiance of the Son of God as a long distance participant rather than a leader. I am taking these moments to listen deeply and breathe in the grace of God for all the ministry that lies ahead. I am intensely aware that these moments of quarantine without strong sickness are a gift from God to help me prepare. Sometimes God needs to force us to our necessary rest.
I got home from church and deacon board meeting on Sunday and started feeling sick. By Sunday night I had full on COVID symptoms. I tested, but the test came back negative. By Monday morning I was pretty much relegated to bed. I slept away most of that day. On Tuesday after my second COVID test , which came back positive I slept most of that day too.
By Tuesday I had gotten word that three more of my staff had come down sick and today a fourth member messaged to say she had tested positive. That leaves my daughter (who has just come out of quarantine) and my personal assistant who had COVID in November running the church.
We have just begun 21 days of fasting and prayer with 30 weekly prayer meetings and the church staff is pretty much in quarantine. My daughter was asking God about this and the answer she got was, “This movement is about the church not about the leadership. The church must rise up and the staff must be put in a position to let them.”
apparently that position is COVID POSITIVE.
So I am joining the prayer meetings remotely and am watching as my parishioners rise up to lead this prayer movement for breakthrough! It is POSITIVE indeed.
Morning’s are my best time. I find the hours between 5 A.M. and Noon to be my most productive. Something about the first rays of morning light (even when the sky is gray) just fills me with energy to get up and get going.
Don’t get me wrong a good cup of coffee helps too.
But since we are at the beginning of our church’s yearly 21 days of fasting and prayer coffee is off the table. So the morning sun will be enough along with my herbal tea to get me going in the morning’s.
This morning I have done morning devotions walked the dogs, played with dogs, fed the dogs, made breakfast, read the first ten pages of my daily reading regimen and finished up the second chapter in Storyworth. This week my mother and I conversed about her father. Busyness is coming forward as the chief theme of my mother’s early life. I get the sense she understood the busyness but resented it as a dynamic in her family’s household.
I am finding for myself, busyness is a cautionary theme. I also think that there is a pendulum in my life that swings between busyness and lassitude.
I think I am looking for a happy medium somewhere between hyperactivity and complete indolence.
Maybe the morning light is my answer. Perhaps the balance is a morning of great productivity and afternoon of slower more concentrated work and the evening of recovery.
I am not sure exactly how that works with my schedule but it surely is something I am going to be praying into in the next 21 days as I seek greater breakthrough.
Finding time….finding time….finding time. It’s one of the hardest things to do. I seem to get sidetracked so easily. I get worn down too quickly. I too willingly push aside the important for the urgent.
I am asking myself a lot of questions lately.
WHAT SAFEGUARDS DO I NEED TO CREATE TO HELP ME STAY IN TASK?
WHAT CAN I DO TO UP MY ENERGY LEVEL?
WHAT DO I NEED TO SAY NO TO MORE REGULARLY?
WHAT DO I NEED TO SAY YES TO MORE REGULARLY?
Yesterday was one of those straight out days. I was on the phone, in meetings, writing e-mails and filling out paperwork until 9 P.M.
I mentioned to my sister, when I spoke to her this morning, that my eyes hurt, and when she asked me how much screen time I had yesterday I suddenly realized why.
It also made me realize why I feel at this particular moment that I don’t have enough time. Surprise phone calls, unexpected e-mails that led to necessary urgent paperwork gobbled up my time yesterday and spilled over into today. These things made it impossible to complete my to do list. That made me feel like a failure. That caused me to eat extra candy which in turn caused me to feel groggy and less energetic.
So today I am making a new choice. I finished the calls. I answered the e-mails… and I filled out and mailed the urgent paperwork.
JOB DONE! Now I can stop thinking about it, move on and refocus.
I can look back and celebrate the fact that I did not entirely sabotage myself yesterday in what I realize now was a stress storm.
I may have had four pieces of dark chocolate. But I didn’t eat four Swiss Rolls! Go me!
Even though I missed writing yesterday I still got most of my essential reading done, my devotional video completed and posted. Even though
I did not do the filing I had on my schedule, but I did get the nursing home paperwork done and I still went through my financials.
And today the stress storm has passed.
I am back following my schedule.
I have logged my meals. I am back counting my steps
The regular house chores have been done: Dishes are done; Kitchen is cleaned; Roast is in the oven slow cooking; furnace has been filled with water; dehumidifier has been emptied; and the birds are fed
I have gone back to prepping for the fast which starts in two days (I had my last cup of coffee this morning).
And now I am writing A note to the Vicarage before the dogs start barking for their afternoon walk.
I guess I have to realize that there will always be those days that go off the rails and no amount of planning is going to salvage them. That said I am seeing that something has changed. Last year at this time when my days started getting hectic I just gave up:
I stopped writing.
I stopped counting my steps and fell off the diet going on to gain an additional twenty pounds by summer.
I just decided that since we were moving out of the house in May any way for renovations: sweeping the floors, cleaning the kitchen, bathrooms or shower were sort of unnecessary.
It’s a whole new year and my perspective has changed…grown.
I know the dogs will bark again soon I know another day off the rails is going to happen. But I think I am ready this time.
Yesterday we received a powerful prophetic word that was brought forth by two of our prophetic people and the preacher, all in line with one another in their messages.
Basically the idea put forward was that a storm was upon us, no avoiding it now. God won’t take away the storm. He will walk with us in it and give us power to walk through it miraculously, As we keep our FOCUS ON HIM. Here is one of the Scriptures Carrie Hackett, our guest preacher, used.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ ” Ma. 14:22-33
Today, I began preparing for the 21 day fast which starts next week. I am weening myself off of caffeine and processed sugar to begin with. I will be doing the Daniel fast which is a vegetarian fast with no caffeine, sugar or processed flours. The purpose of this fast is going to be for a release of personal growth in our congregation through a process of breakthrough in areas where we are stuck.
Of late I have felt my vision was stuck. So I will be praying for a release of my prophetic vision.
Nothing dramatic to report today. Sometimes the job is just like every other normal job…well almost.
I think I might have mentioned that I bought my mother a subscription to Storyworth for Christmas. It is a neat website that specialises in helping elders tell their stories for posterity. You can check it out here.
Mom and I had our morning interview which consists of me asking the weekly question and letting the conversation go where it will for a half hour or so. Then I sit down and add to the story board we are working on..
The week after Christmas is generally quiet at the church but this is turning out to be fix it week. We have had Tim, the hydrothermal unit repairman here for a few days working on our oldest hydrothermal unit which gave up the ghost back in August.
The plumber was supposed to come today to to replace our sewage pump in the basement. He got stuck at another job.
So I have been printing out devotional material for our upcoming fast and getting it ready for the stapling process tomorrow while waiting for the skilled workers to finish up their work which at the moment seems way more complicated than mine.
I made a devotional video and a few phone calls to congregants who are ill.
Tim is finished now and so is the photocopier, so it’s time to go home and make a healthy dinner and finish my step count for the day….See. It’s just like any other normal job.