Thursday, October 26, 2006


I just wrote for the newsletter cover this week. I used the brain cells I typically devote to blogging to write it, so I am sharing it here as well!

One of the ways that God seems to get my attention is by repetition. Whenever something repeats itself within a short time frame, like a verse of scripture, a topic of conversation, similar topics in different religious periodicals, I take that as an indication that God is trying to tell me something.

This week, I think God has been trying to get me to think about perspective… which also happens to be a very appropriate topic for the month of November and Thanksgiving.

As I trying to catch up on some back issues of Christian Century magazine, I came across an article about a good death. I thought about how, when I reach the end of my life, I hope that I will find that I can truly rest in peace, knowing that I have lived faithfully and cared about things that really matter. I read another devotional that reminded me of the same subject. Then I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for Carl Davis' mother Lib Davis. Funerals are always good for gaining perspective. Annoyances, challenges, concerns, problems… how many of them will really matter in a year? Over a lifetime? Not many.

When I was driving with my kids last week, "Keep on the Sunny Side" was on the radio. Shannon announced that she did not like the sunny side. It took me a moment to understand that she meant she does not like the sun in her eyes! I explained that the sunny side also refers to the happy side. I was not sure she understood the concept. Then four days later, she announced to me "Mommy, I do keep on the happy side. I keep on God's side."

That is really what it is all about. When thinking about what really matters, most things fall away. But when the end comes, I want to be able to look back on my life and be able to say I followed Jesus, lived deeply, cared about things that really matter, and loved God and others with my whole being.

This is the perspective that keeps me focused. Gratitude is the thing that helps me keep this perspective.

I always think of a sociological study I learned about in college. Three groups of soldiers were studied during the Vietnam war. One group was stationed in the U.S., one in Europe, and one on the battlefield of Vietnam. The sociologists hypothesized that the soldiers in the U.S. would be happiest, followed by the ones in Europe, and that the ones stationed in the war zone would be most unhappy. What they found was the opposite. The soldiers in Vietnam reported they were most happy, and the soldiers in the U.S. the least. Why? It was a matter of perspective. The soldiers in Vietnam were comparing themselves to their dead friends. They were happy to be alive. The soldiers in the U.S. were comparing themselves to their friends who were not in the military, and were miserable. Perspective matters.

So, I am grateful to be alive, to know and serve my Savior, to have a family, a church family, food to eat, a warm beautiful house, clothes to wear, and good health. I remind myself often that thousands of people die every day for lack of basic necessities, and thousands more die having had only half-lived lives, never knowing the love, hope, and purpose offered by God through Jesus Christ.

God's mission entrusted to the Church is to invite people who do not know God through Jesus Christ into a whole new perspective- indeed a whole new life. I cannot imagine a more sacred or wonderful gift and responsibility.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Baby Kisses

This morning, I sat and played with my son for half an hour before leaving for the office. Today is speech therapy day for him. We have been working on having him stick out his tongue and pucker up for kisses to help his mouth and tongue muscles get stronger.

As I was leaving this morning, he climbed into my arms. Usually I get hugs and snuggles, and I kiss his cheeks all over. But this morning, I was given a special treat: several slobbery puckered kisses right on the lips. He was giggling and slobbering all over me as he kissed me. What a gift from God.

As I drove in, I thought about how universal humans are in so many ways. I thought about the folks that come to the Kanal Kitchen every month. Folks from the church family, my husband included, drive each month to Elkton and pick up folks for the meal. Many are homeless. God has provided a boat ride for them- many had never been on a boat. They were delighted. Folks who are homeless have children and hopes and fears and dreams like I do. We have not had any incidents of theft or anything of that nature since the Kanal Kitchen began more than 2 years ago. The folks at Kanal Kitchen enjoy my 2 year old son and four year old daughter as much as I do. They wave to them, engage them in kid level conversation, and (I hope) feel the love of God throughout our time together.

Folks come to the Kanal Kitchen from all sorts of circumstances, ranging from living in the woods, to families with kids who know we serve great desserts, to folks who live alone and are grateful for the community to share a meal. It's like a big party. Our church family is encouraged to just come and eat as a way of sharing hospitality.

The image of God's Kingdom in Scripture is often charachterized as a big party, a feast, a banquet. I imagine it involves wet, slobbery, baby kisses too... otherwise, it's not a feast to me. God's Kingdom is also said to be already here, and not yet fully here.

I am always grateful for glimpses of the Kingdom- in my children, in the Kanal Kitchen, in the face of a person we gave a ride to in Elkton this week becuase she was carrying a 3 week old baby in one arm and bags of groceries in the other. God is all around, if only I pay attention.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Administrative Council and Rotating Homeless Shelter

I have continued to give a lot of prayer and thought to this. God has brought me into many conversations with folks in our community of faith who are struggling with this.

I have discovered that I need to repent of something I posted on my blog last week. We should not be "revoting" this issue due to how the vote in October was taken. I am not a legalistic person, and I have always been a spirit of the law, rather than letter of the law leader. I know that everyone voted in good faith, and going back and rehashing that will not bring glory to God.

It has also occurred to me that we have actually voted on the same issue twice already. In September, we decided to consider this with two questions. The question we voted in September was whether we want to host the shelter. It was unanimous that we want to. Then we decided to see if we have the volunteer base needed to host the shelter and vote about the logistics of everything in October. The vote in October was supposed to be about logistics, like organizing the volunteers and community notification. But in October, we essentially revoted what we had voted in September. We voted about whether we want to have the shelter and reversed ourselves.

So what will happen in November? Only the Spirit knows. If the conversations others have had with me are any indication, most of the Administrative Council members who were not present are feeling it is important that we discuss this issue further. How that will go is up to the Council.

P.S. A correction, the council meets on Tuesday not Sunday... the correct date is Nov. 14. (Dates of Sundays order my life, so I can get stuck on them!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

God's Generosity in my Daughter

My daughter Shannon is 4 1/2 years old. Tonight she went upstairs and brought down her piggy bank. She is asked if she could be away from her brother, where he cannot reach. So while she sat at the kitchen table, I distracted him with "Go Dog Go" repeated about a dozen times. (Since there are no places left out that are out of his reach.)

When Jacob and I came into the kitchen, she had almost completely emptied her entire piggy bank. She announced that she was taking out all of her money to send to Louisiana. To the kids there. All of it. Every penny and even the foreign coin I have long since forgotten its country of origin went into a zip lock bag. It totaled $25.05. I asked her if she wanted to write a letter. She said yes, and she dictated the following to me to write on construction paper.

Dear Little Kids:
I am giving you money. It came from my piggy bank. It is my birthday, Christmas, and Easter dollars. I want to help Louisiana with buying things. I want the adults to help the little kids buy some candy with this. Louisiana, I hope you spend all of my money. I hope you get your houses fixed. And I hope they are already repairing it. I hope some of your houses might be already fixed. I am praying for the little kids also, and all the mommies, daddies, and babies. I hope you get my wishes. I hope you already have stuff in your houses. There is a coloring on the back.
Shannon Danielle Yarnall

Yes, she used the word repairing.

I am totally awed by God's grace working in her. She colored and put stickers all over the back of the paper. Then she announced that the next time her piggy bank is full she wants to give it to help kids in another country.

We will mail the letter, with a cover from me explaining it, either to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in New York or directly to the United Methodist Conference office in Louisiana. The money will go into the plate at church on Sunday and be sent to Katrina relief through UMCOR.

What an awesome way to end the day!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Update:The Big Meeting on the Homeless Shelter

Last night at Town Point Administrative Council we had quite a full house. 56 people by my count were present; the majority of them are from outside of our church family. It was great to have so many folks come into the church.

Tyra Parker from Meeting Ground was present, and she did a great job answering questions for folks. Many questions and concerns were expressed. Several disciples of Jesus spoke from their hearts about their faith in God to make this rotating homeless shelter happen. A few left feeling differently than when they arrived. One woman shared with me that she had signed a petition in opposition prior to the meeting, but that when she heard the Scripture read, she suddenly realized she had been wrong. I look forward to seeing her Sunday. I am grateful to her for showing me the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. God also moved in many of the folks who are opposed to the shelter, but committed to responding to the problem of homelessness. They asked to be contacted by Meeting Ground about being on the committee that will work toward a long term solution of a permanent shelter.

After 2 1/2 hours of concerns, questions, and testimony, we moved to the Administrative Council part of the meeting. The Administrative Council voted that only members of Ad Council would vote, rather than opening up to the church membership. We decided that since not all church members knew they would be able to vote, it would have had to have been announced in advance to do such a thing.

The vote was 6 against hosting the shelter at Town Point, and 5 in favor. This morning, after checking the listing of current Ad Council membership, I learned that one of the persons who voted is no longer on the Council. We had already set a meeting for Nov. 12, so we will have to vote again on that night, since we are now at a tie.

I know that God is working in and through this... through the hearts of individuals gathered there last night, by raising up new volunteers to address the problem of homelessness, and by requiring Town Point to carefully consider this...twice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I am home from a contemplative prayer retreat that was a tremendous blessing. I spent Tuesday afternoon through Thursday afternoon practicing the presence of God, as Brother Laurence calls it. What a journey.

On Wednesday morning, I became convinced that despite all of my desire to be a contemplative, I am lousy at it. I spent my morning walk along the beach thinking mostly of the future, rather than paying attention to God in the present moment.

But I found that one of my retreat companions was onto something when she said that coming on retreat as like being emptied out first, so that God has room to fill me up again. I did not begin to feel filled until Wednesday evening, after day and a half of spending time, mostly in silence, thinking, observing, reflecting, praying.

Now, I feel really relaxed, present, and without anxiety. I felt God working on me throughout the retreat to give up worry, anxiety, and rushing around. As the retreat was closing, I had flash of insight that I really hope I can carry into my daily routine. I realized that God has converted four days of my week into days that are largely free of rushing and anxiety. Fridays, I relax just because it is Friday, regardless of the state of my sermon. From Fridays-Mondays, I am able to put worries out of my mind and just be. The trouble is, I put them off until Tuesday, and I spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday stressed, anxious, and cramming too much work into too little time. So what I hope to do is allow God to convert the other three days of my week. It's really just a matter of how I perceive the days. Right now, I give myself permission, perhaps even expect myself to be frenzied. If I can just banish that expectation altogether, I will feel much more like a contemplative!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Kids and Present Time

My son Jacob and I went for a bike ride tonight. He rode in the trailer hooked to the back of my bike, and we had a very peaceful ride. He sat languidly in the back, checking things out as they went by. I enjoyed the beautiful evening air, and when we returned home, he wanted to go for a short walk. He did not say so... he is speech delayed. But he communicates just fine, even squatting down at the end of our drive way to look for cars before stepping onto the street. He examined rocks. He pointed when he heard engines out on the nearby highway. Jacob was living entirely in the present moment, and I was right there with him.

I thought about what a blessing it is to just be in the moment. That is at the heart of prayer, and of holy relationship. Most worrying is the result of thinking about the future, or regretting the past. The present is God inhabited time.

And our society is so eager to steal this away from our children. We begin asking them as soon as they are old enough to talk "what do you want to be when you grow up?" Implied in this question are two values. 1) You only have value for what you contribute to the world through work and 2) You should be thinking A LOT about the future. By the time a person reaches adult hood, it has become an ingrained habit to live in the future.

Thoughts and dreams about high school give way to plans for college, which flow into dreams about degrees, then careers to launch, places to travel, houses to buy, marriage partners to find, and children to have.

Typically, very little energy goes into helping children hold onto something God gives them from the beginning: the ability to enjoy the God given moment, each and every one of them...every breath, every glimpse of a motorcycle, sunset, rock, airplane, car turning the corner, and every chance to hold hands and walk down the street.

An hour after my bike ride and walk with my son, I was tucking my four year daughter into bed. She said to me "Mommy, I want to be a kid forever. I don't want to grow up." It was as if the Spirit had given her some special insight into my thoughts tonight. I told her "Shannon, you can be a kid forever. I want to be your Mommy forever." And I do... I want to cherish every single minute of the time we have right now, and not let one single minute be sacrificed on the altar of thinking about the future. I'll deal with future reality when we get there. For now, I am just grateful for evening bike rides and night time snuggles. Thanks be to God.