Advent Signs

One of the signs of hope for me personally this Advent is that the South Carolina Delegation has endorsed me to be their Episcopal Nominee. Today is the day that their website for me, www.timmcclendon.org, is being launched. I am grateful for all of their hard work in doing this. This is a great reminder of Christ’s never-ending work in our lives, and one of the best Christmas gifts ever for me. Thank you to all!

This reminds me of a very significant Thanksgiving that we observed 3 years ago. We were at Cindy’s mother’s house and we feasted and reminisced about former days. As I was walking around in the yard before we left I noticed the stump of the old oak tree that had stood for centuries beside the house. After Hugo ripped up another of the ancient giants and ice storms decimated the rest, it seemed a good idea to cut down this hazard that was located precariously close to the house. All that had been left for several years was a huge stump.

I’m sure the transformation took place gradually, but that Saturday it was undeniably apparent. The old stump that had once looked weather beaten and forlorn was alive. It was sprouting new shoots, live branches of hope into the gray sky. They were at least four feet tall and climbing. The serendipity of the find gave me pause to think about life and its changes. We go through lifeless seasons of scarring and barrenness, and then Jesus’ power causes us to sprout again. Even when it seems like life is over, Jesus can resurrect us. There is no damage that Jesus can’t undo!

Another serendipitous occasion over that Thanksgiving holiday was the arrival at my mother-in-law’s of a cute little beagle. Mrs. Godwin had enjoyed her two cats, but she had sorely missed the Boykin spaniel that she and Mr. Godwin mutually adored. Bud was the dog that they loved so much. Bud enjoyed riding in the pickup with Mr. Godwin and lying down at Mrs. Godwin’s feet. He was so old he started to edge closer and closer to death’s door, but, because he was so much a reminder of Mr. Godwin’s life, Mrs. Godwin spared no expense in vet bills to keep Bud going, especially after Mr. Godwin’s untimely death. However, one day he just disappeared, either stolen or instinctually or purposely wandering off to die in order to spare Mrs. Godwin another grief.

Other dogs had come and gone before Bud: Brio, and Britt, to name a few. You probably noticed that all their names started with the letter “B.” So one’s imagination wouldn’t have to work overtime to figure out what new name this foundling beagle was granted: Barney. Mrs. Godwin, living by herself, had said repeatedly that she wanted another dog but she didn’t have the desire or physical stamina to train one for the house. Well, God does work in mysterious ways. Barney was already house-broken, had quite a menacing bark for a dog with his diminutive size, and quickly learned to use the “dog door” that Mr. Godwin installed some time before his death. Once again, when we least expected it, just like the old tree stump’s new shoots, new life enters our pain and gives us hope.

Advent season can be a similar experience for us frail time-bound human creatures. Last year our family didn’t even put up a Christmas tree because we were too overwhelmed by personal concerns in the aftermath of Mrs. Godwin’s sudden death and Narcie’s brain tumor. This year, determined to open our hearts to Jesus’ power to bring new life, we have put up our decorations weeks earlier than usual. Instead of retreating into worry, which is more my problem and not Cindy’s, Advent dares us to advance toward God’s in-breaking kingdom, whether it comes in the form of new shoots out of a seemingly dead stump, a new puppy, or a new website. May this Advent bring you inspired hope. Join me in looking for the signs!

A Time For Everything

Yogi Berra said once “It’s Déjà vu all over again.” I sort of hope not. A lot has happened in the last 3 years. In 2008 I was honored to be South Carolina’s nominee for bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. It was a great privilege, the delegation was whole-heartedly behind me, and I came in second to a great nominee. I wondered like most of us do as to why such and such happened, but now 3 years later things make more sense, and feel so very differently.

I’m not suggesting at all that things go a certain way in an “It was meant to be” kind of way. I am no predestinarian. However, I do believe in God’s providence. Providentially I can look back over the last 3 years and count merciful reasons why I wasn’t elected bishop. Our family has had 2 births, 2 deaths, 2 graduations, 3 hospitalizations, and 1 ordination. The two births were Narcie and Mike’s Evy and Josh and Karen’s Kaela. The 2 deaths were the sudden losses of Cindy’s Mom and my brother, Carlee. The 2 graduations were Caleb and Karen. The 3 hospitalizations were Cindy’s saga this year with a series of surgeries, and, of course, the June 11, 2010 brain tumor surgery for Narcie. Please keep praying for her. The 1 ordination was Josh as an Elder in the UMC yesterday.  It’s been a busy couple of years.

Now perhaps the real providential reason I wasn’t elected 3 years ago was because I needed to grow some more and I still do for that matter. But here we are again and the South Carolina Annual Conference has spoken again. I was first-elected clergy again, amazingly, and I am so grateful for all those who have prayed for me and given their support. Yesterday afternoon the delegation unanimously endorsed me as their Episcopal nominee for 2012. It will be another long year, but things already feel so much better.

The primary reason this feels so different now is the groundswell of the Spirit. It hasn’t just felt like the delegation is behind me, but the whole Annual Conference. It’s a “we” thing and everyone is on the team. Jesus’ Spirit of Pentecost is alive and well and I am grateful. Maybe 3 years ago it was more of a personal call still. Now I feel it in my bones as an ecclesiastical call. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus and the church.

This Annual Conference is our family home. Narcie, Josh, and I are full members of the conference and feel that community in such a rich way. I want to say “Thanks!” to every one of you. Thanks for being with us through all the peaks and valleys. This is our journey together. The Scriptural theme of what we’ve been through is clear:

Ecclesiastes 3: A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

He has also set eternity in the human heart;

yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Amen!

I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust in the providence of God no matter what.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmYOc2iZozU – The Summons

Ups and Downs/Downs and Ups

I’ve been up and I’ve been down lately. Some of you know that I was the nominee from South Carolina as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. I wasn’t elected, but was second throughout the election – painful yet I’m better for the experience. The affirmation from laity and clergy from SC and across the church has been phenomenal. I appreciate everyone who helped. Folks have been saying that I should decide now to go through this gauntlet four years from now. Who knows? On a personal level, no way. However if it was true, and I think it was – that this was something I felt called to do on the day before the election, then it’s still true today or I was delusional to begin with. Thank God for friends and a wonderful family who have been faithful the whole way, and have reminded me of God’s consistent and gracious call.
 
To think about being a nominee again so quickly is about as appropriate as telling a couple who just experienced a miscarriage to move on because they can have other children. That’s not a comforting thought when it’s heard so soon after a loss. I’ll pray and keep seeking the Lord’s guidance. That’s the downer of the past ten days, and also the upper with the affirmation of God and so many good people.
 
The other up and down roller coaster has been leaving Lake Junaluska to travel immediately to Atlanta to teach at Emory. I teach “Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit” in the mornings to Course of Study students, and “UM Discipline and Polity” in the afternoons to M.Div. candidates. This has been great, and tiring in a good way. The students are co-learners with me, but I have been simply beat from the emotional stress of the past year.
Then I found out Thursday my middle brother Ralph needed emergency open-heart surgery, so I tore out of here yesterday and headed back to SC to see him. The surgery was a complete success. I have seen him three times in the past 24 hours, and he has already been moved to a room. I am so thankful.
 
Now I’m back in Atlanta to grade papers and ponder where God is in all of our ups and downs. God is present. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but does what God does best and that is to help us get through things, all by grace. That’s where I am right now and hope to stay.