A Big Day for Narcie

Today is a big day with Narcie. This is her first MRI after the May 10 Brain Tumor surgery and we need you to help pray that everything is A-Okay. She’s a fighter, a wife, mother of two preschoolers, and campus minister and Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida. She is a wonderful daughter, big sister, and lover of Jesus!

Here’s what she posted last night about today’s events:

“I have my first MRI post-surgery tomorrow at 9 am. The doctor is going to read it at our appointment at 1 pm. I’m not expecting that the tumor will grow back overnight. Not by any means. And I’m sure the doctor’s visit will be anticlimactic – but only in a GREAT, AWESOME, GOD way.

This song “Hurricane” by Natalie Grant has really struck me lately.”

I would appreciate your prayers for her scans at 9 am this morning and the doctor’s appointment at 1pm today, October 14! Pray for Mike, Narcie, Enoch, and Evy and everyone who is working for Narcie’s healing. Thank you for your support. We couldn’t make it without you.

I was at one Charge Conference yesterday afternoon where folks were asking about Narcie and the pastor suggested that we all hold hands and pray. That meant a lot. It does every day. I know that we all face hurricanes. The hope we cling to is that God will find us in the hurricanes of life, and be with us! Whatever you’re facing this week, trust that! Have a listen to Natalie Grant’s “Hurricane:”

Just talked to Narcie and MRI is clear! There was some fluid and she has 4 more months of chemo. Next MRI in 3 months. Please pray that she handles the chemo and it does its job! God is good and we’re grateful to the Lord and y’all! Here is link to Narcie’s post appointment thoughts as she and family try to take it all in: http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/survival-mode/

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A Message From Narcie

Most of you know that my daughter, Rev. Narcie Jeter, Gator Wesley Director at the University of Florida, had a second brain tumor surgery May 10 of this year. She is so strong because God is so strong. She just wrote this and as I got home late last night from presiding at a charge conference she had just posted this. I needed it. Maybe you do, too, or someone you know. Thank you for your prayers for Narcie. Thank you to Jesus who makes us all Overcomers!

Her blog is “Blessings on the Journey” and this post can be found at:

http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/overcomer/

Brain Surgery to Birthing a Baby

It’s a new day, a new season. I welcome Pentecost for lots of reasons this year! This morning at 6:28 a.m. a new granddaughter was born. Joella Anne McClendon was born to Josh and Karen and beautifully welcomed by her big sister Kaela. Joella is an interesting name, and it fits both Pentecost and my family. Her birth will always be connected to the Spirit’s power predicted by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32) and fulfilled on the first Pentecost. As for the name’s connection to us, I can name at least 17 family members who have been named Joel. Joel/Joella is a great name that literally means, “The Lord is God!” Josh’s Hebrew classes have come in handy as he and Karen have selected names. Whenever there is an “el” in a name you can bank on God showing up because it is a shortened rendition of Elohim (God). Way to go in sharing the faith-reminders of Kaela (“Who is Like God?”) and Joella (“The Lord is God!”).

Our whole family says “Amen!” because we need faith-reminders. Who doesn’t? Narcie’s brain surgery was a scant 9 days ago. The surgeon deftly removed the tumor and margins, and slowly but surely, as predicted, Narcie’s speech and fine motor skills are returning. Please keep praying for her as she continues to improve. We have been flying the trapeze between brain surgery and birthing babies. We need a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to ride these waves from crest to trough and back to crest again. Have you ever felt like an unanchored buoy bobbing from one emotion to another? Oh, Lord, we need your Holy Spirit to give us strength. We praise you for the mighty things you have been doing in Narcie and with Joella’s birth, but please help us to catch our breath. Interesting that the Hebrew word used for the Spirit is ruach, or “breath.”

So during Pentecost we celebrate the power of God’s Spirit poured out on Jesus’ followers. Pentecost has appropriately been called the birthday of the church, and it will certainly be remembered by us as Joella’s birthday. Pentecost is very personal this year because of Narcie and the baby.  Why? The answer is the same as it must have been for Jesus’ followers on that first Pentecost. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost turned reluctant fear-ridden disciples into daring witnesses for Jesus. After Pentecost every apostle but John gladly died martyr’s deaths for the sake of Christ. The Greek word martyrios meant witness before it came to mean someone willing to die for their beliefs. Pentecost gave Jesus’ followers supernatural power that inspired them to do amazing things.

Pentecost is such a contrast to our usual experience of God. Perhaps we should let God shake us up more so that we won’t be so freaked out by life’s tidal waves. How would we react if our church buildings were shaken like what occurred on Pentecost? What would our reaction be if we saw flickering flames dancing above people’s heads while they spoke about Jesus in unknown languages? Would we be worried? I hope not, but most of our churches are afraid of a smidgeon of the Holy Spirit, much less a real dose. Pentecost is a reminder of what God can do in and through us, not what God can do for us! A God chained to our desires will always be too weak to deliver us from evil or whatever trouble comes our way.

So from one extreme to another we go, God-in-a-box to God-unleashed. Which would you rather experience? I heard of one woman whose idea of worship was decidedly focused on meeting her own personal needs. She complained to the organist one Sunday, “Your preludes are so loud, I can’t hear what my friends are saying.” True Spirit-filled worship is more in tune with what pleases God than us. After all, transformative worship correctly identifies God as the audience for everything we do in worship. The congregants are the actors, and those who serve behind the chancel rail are stage hands of sorts who direct the congregation/actors in whether or not to bow their heads, give offerings, stand up, or sit down, etc. Worship services put God first and foremost or they aren’t worship, and they aren’t relevant to people who have been on life’s trapeze without a net!

Pentecost should remind us that God can do mighty things that are out of the norm to those who truly worship. A woman was attending a meeting of Church Women United where the secretary asked what her church affiliation was. She replied, “I’m United Methodist, but my husband is nondimensional.” Surely she meant nondenominational, but being nondimensional in our faith seems to be pretty popular – shallow, predictable, with a one-sided “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Many want a domesticated God that isn’t Pentecostal. We are afraid of a multi-dimensional God because a wild God who shakes buildings might shake us up, too. Let me tell you, from what we’ve been through lately, and more truthfully our whole life, we don’t want a flat one dimensional or non-dimensional God ever! We want and need the real deal – a God of Power and Might! Come, Holy Spirit, Come! Who is like God? Nobody! The Lord is God! Amen!

Kaela & Joella
Kaela & Joella
 

Our Family Wreath Includes You!

Years ago Cindy and I bought a framed pressed flower wreath composed of the tiniest of colorful blooms. It still hangs on our wall. Inside the wreath in dainty calligraphy were prophetic words that we have tried to honor through all the subsequent years: “Our family is a circle of strength and love, with every birth and every union, the circle grows, every joy shared adds more love, every crisis faced together, makes the circle stronger.”

There have been births and deaths, tragedies and triumphs, and we continue to praise the Living God who gives us the grace to endure together. If anything, it’s the together part that makes the journey easier. No wonder Jesus wanted his followers to be formed into a community of faith. The “two or more…” of the church represents the strength that we gain from bearing one another’s burdens. I can tell you this if you don’t have a community of faith, United Methodism’s connectionalism works! I want to say “Thank you!” to all of you who have been a part of our family sagas over the years. You have lightened the load. You have inspired us to live life with honesty and hope through Jesus.

The Christian faith is not an opiate for the masses as said Marx. Christianity is a very real source of hope. The world’s ways of coping with problems isn’t sufficient. Take a peek at the mostly inadequate methods espoused:

Sixteen Thoughts to Get You Through Almost Any Crisis

1. Indecision is the key to flexibility

2. You cannot tell which way the train went
by looking at the track.

3. There is absolutely no substitute for a genuine lack of preparation.

4. Happiness is merely the remission of pain.

5. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

6. The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.

7. Someone who thinks logically is a nice
contrast to the real world.

8. Things are more like they are today than
they ever have been before.

9. Everything should be made as simple as
possible, but no simpler.

10. Friends may come and go, but enemies
accumulate.

11. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.

12. One-seventh of your life is spent on Monday.

13. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.

14. This is as bad as it can get, but don’t bet on it.

15. Never wrestle a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it.

16. The trouble with life is, you’re halfway through it before you realize it’s a “do-it
yourself” thing.

Although there may be some truth in a couple of these, all in all these clichés are absolutely no comparison to the hope that comes from Jesus Christ. John 10:10-11 says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Yes, the source of evil and disease isn’t God but the thief. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that gave himself so that we poor sheep can have life to the full.

As a family we thank you for your prayers through the years. Some critical times were when we lost our fathers 5 weeks apart in two sudden deaths, and your support through the deaths of both of our mothers was unwavering. Your prayers and presence through my brother’s sudden death were comforting. Your wisdom and guidance through our youngest son Caleb’s journey have been appreciated as well.  You have been with us through the births of our grandchildren Enoch, Evy, and Kaela, too. Guess what: Josh and Karen are about to have another daughter within the month, so thanks ahead of time for prayers for them! The baby is going to be another little girl! My Dad often said that he would have traded all three of his sons for one daughter so Josh and Karen are doubly blessed!

Thanks to Narcie, I can really understand my Dad’s sentiment about daughters. So today I want to thank you especially for your support through Narcie’s travails. It doesn’t seem like it’s been almost three years since her first surgery and diagnosis of an oligodendroglioma brain tumor, and here we go again. May 10, this coming Friday, she is scheduled for another brain surgery. Dr. William Friedman at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida will be the surgeon. Pray for him and the whole team!

When Narcie got the appointment at UF for the Gator Wesley Director’s position, we had no clue that they had a medical school, much less a renowned tumor center, and Dr. Friedman is chair of the department! God’s providence is marvelous. Even when life’s storms have come our way, God has provided. God doesn’t cause the dilemmas, but God always provides a way out. I Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

So thank you now for the prayers for Narcie, and please continue to lift her up. We will make it by the grace of God. We will continue to live in a posture of faith trusting in a good God who gave his only Son that we might have everlasting life. We will rejoice together and suffer together, and we will prevail together! Thank you for being a part of our family wreath,

tim

Frankenstorms and Questions of Why

One of my clergypersons in the Columbia District is enduring an unusual burden. His wife’s parents have been ill. Saturday night the father died at home. The mother was in the hospital, and the family decided not to tell her until Sunday morning. In their tenuous broaching of the news with her, she interrupted them, “I know what’s going on. Jack’s dead. I felt it during the night.” Within a few hours she was gone, too. Eleven hours apart they met Jesus face to face. It’s a powerful example of the intuitive power of love in a good marriage, yet a tough grief for a family to bear. How do we handle such news? Where is our solace?

Overcome by the news trickling out of the middle and upper Atlantic regions of the U.S. and the broad swath of tragic effects from Hurricane Sandy, I think there’s a message for all who go through the trials of life. Here we are in an uncertain economy, a toss-up election season, and a society that has more non-religious people than people of faith. What is our message to a hurting world overcome by natural calamity and difficult choices? What is our message to Marcus Lattimore, University of South Carolina running back and faithful United Methodist, who has already endured one horrific knee injury and rehab last year only to have another disaster hit his other knee this past Saturday? How do we encourage this forlorn planet where so many bad things happen to good people?

First off we have to answer people’s “Why?” questions with a non-Rick Warren/Purpose-Driven response. We do not believe it is God’s purpose to harm God’s children. That would be child abuse! The Scriptures tell us that “every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in Heaven …” (James 1:17). Therefore, hurricanes, cancer, knee injuries, and economic disasters don’t come from God. Grace is what comes from God. Call the source of calamities whatever or whomever you will, but never say that it’s the God we have encountered in Jesus. Jesus enters our pain rather than causing it. He redeems our fallen faltering world. He works for good our mistaken freedom-caused dilemmas that have led us down the dark path of blaming God instead of the real culprits.

So today as I ponder my daughter’s continuing saga of a brain tumor, and my dismay at the world’s suffering, I will NOT go quietly into the dark abyss of hopeless fatalism that falsely claims that our God is the enemy. I will rather face this day and every day with the Christian Hope that life trumps death; God’s grace and strength are sufficient for every time of need; and I am one of God’s agents for redemption in every situation. I choose to remember God today!

I dare you to read Roberta Bondi’s Memories of God as a way to recall the ways of God in tough times. Her last chapter is especially helpful to me. It is entitled, “Memories of God: In the Communion of Saints.” In it she poignantly describes her Auntie Ree’s last days on earth and the struggle Roberta had with medical professionals about her aunt’s end-of-life decision. Her Aunt Ree was ready to die and refused further treatment. The healthcare professionals wanted to attempt some more heroic efforts. Unable to fend for herself, Roberta interceded on her aunt’s behalf. Her Auntie Ree was ready to leave the Church Militant and join the Church Triumphant. With Roberta’s successful intervention, the last doctor and nurse indignantly left the room. Roberta says that her aunt’s joy was overflowing at that point, not so much because of the absence of jabbing needles, but because, as Aunite Ree said to Roberta, “You have given me eternity, my darling.” She thanked Roberta over and over again for the gift of transition from one life to another.

All Hallow’s Eve is tomorrow, October 31, and my mind is swirling with memories. My mother was the best at finding the right houses to get the most Halloween candy. Every year the car would be filled with ghoul and goblin dressed kids who wanted a chance to ride on my mother’s treasure-filled route. She made me a popular kid! I miss her greatly. She was so full of love and gave it so freely.

Bondi’s book comforts me because in 1993 after suffering a major stroke I hung on the side of Mother’s bed begging her to wake up and come back to us. I was selfish. I think that I got my wish because she was selfless and responded out of her love for us without a thought about herself. As usual! Unfortunately, she came back with only the faintest resemblance of her old self. She was so debilitated. She could only move one finger and smile just a bit and that was it. In her gift to us she allowed us a few short months to say goodbye and let her go. As she was finally dying, like Roberta Bondi’s Auntie Ree, you could see the response in Mother’s eyes, “You have given me eternity, my darlings.”

As Halloween approaches and I think of Mother I find great comfort in the Apostles’ Creed. In it we say that we believe in the “Communion of Saints.” What does it mean? Very few of the classes that I had in seminary discussed it, so I naturally assumed it had something to do with Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. It’s not that it doesn’t in a tangential way, but the creed speaks of a communion that goes well beyond the tremendum mysterium of a regular Communion service. It really wasn’t until my parents died that a study of eschatology gave me a proper grip on the subject.

The “Communion of Saints” is all about eschatology. Eschatology is literally “a study of last things.” So, when we say that we believe in the “Communion of Saints” we’re saying that we believe that there is some sort of mystical interaction, call it influence, memory, or inward impression that occurs between the saints in heaven and those on earth – an intersection of this life and the after-life. Saints on earth are called the Church Militant because we’re still struggling through life. The saints in heaven are called The Church Triumphant because they have overcome. Though dead, they are yet alive and continue to influence and inspire us to greatness.

They cannot see the bad things that we do. That wouldn’t be heaven, would it? I cherish the hope that just as much as I can feel my mother and father’s cheerleading presence, somehow, they, too, can know the good things that happen in my life. If they can see the good that I do, I am inspired to do all the more. Therefore, the “Communion of Saints” is a wonderful basis for inspiration and hope. It evokes the image of the family table reunited, loves ones living eternally, the cross-generational transmission of positive influence, and the circle unbroken.

Robert Benton’s Academy Award-winning film “Places in the Heart” captures this motif better than I can say it. The movie is a story of a young woman, played by Sally Field, widowed within the first few minutes of the film, struggling against all odds in a desolate corner of Texas during the 1930s. Her husband is killed and human vultures try to take away the only thing her husband has left her and her two small children – a small farm. The tapestry of Benton’s story is woven with every sin and hardship imaginable.

Then the film ends with a communion service. At first the camera shows you a few of the good folk in town. Next, the film reveals some of the not-so-good characters who have been part of the movie, like the banker and others who conspired to take away the farm. They’re all sitting together on the same pew, or in the same church. Suddenly the scene morphs into a visualization of the Communion of Saints. The camera continues to move with the cups of wine. There is the faithful African-American farmhand who helped bring in the crop so the widow might pay her mortgage; next to him, the blind boarder. The plate passes to the children, then to their mother. She is seated next to her late husband. As you are trying to take this in, the plate moves to the deceased young man who shot her husband. They commune, and each responds one to the other: “The peace of God.” All these folks, some dead and some alive, commune, and there’s peace!

This is more than a regular Sunday morning Communion service; this is the kingdom, eternity captured in time. The camera has given us a new look at life, the way Jesus said God looks at it. God has done something to enable everyone to come to the Table. The apostle Paul says it this way: “In Christ, God was reconciling us to himself, not counting our trespasses against us.” This is the Communion of Saints that we celebrate! This coming All Saints Day, Thursday, November 1, 2012, I will remember. Though the goblins of life attack and assail us in countless ways, I will not yield to despair. I will claim the Good News of Jesus Christ that God is love and love turns crosses into crowns. That is the story of Jack and Judy Lewis who died 11 hours apart. It is the message that the world needs desperately to hear on tough days. This is the only way for all the non-religious people to survive the Frankenstorms of life. In Jesus, the Wounded Healer, we can find hope and redemption.

Heroes!

Who are your heroes? I can think of the aunt who re-taught me how to tie my shoes and tell time after I had encephalitis as an eight year old. I can think of my Mother and Daddy, my brothers, and so many more who have been my mentors along the way. Today I especially recall my oldest brother who died on his 70th birthday, August 15, two years ago. I think of my courageous daughter, Narcie, a United Methodist Campus Minister who had surgery for a brain tumor in June 2010. I stand amazed at her poise and passion. She is one of my heroes to be sure! My wife, Cindy, an Elementary Guidance Counselor, is a hero to so many. Gratitude goes to all Educators starting another school year.  You are tremendous heroes! The Olympics have shown us so many heroes, too. Some have been athletes. A lot more have been coaches and family members who have paid for gymnastic or swimming lessons since their children were just beyond being toddlers.

Don’t ever say that we don’t have any heroes anymore. In 1998, Captain Timothy Stackpole was severely injured while battling a fire. He was able to recover enough to return and resume his job as a firefighter. His only comment on getting back to work was, “It’s my calling.” Those words took on a whole new meaning when September 11, 2001 rolled around. Captain Timothy Stackpole died while trying to battle the blaze and save people in the World Trade Center. No wonder that immediately after the tragic events of September 11 retailers who sell Halloween costumes announced that the most popular outfits were those of firefighters and police officers. Continue to pray for one of my pastors, Rev. Steve McCormick and his family, whose only son, Major Joe McCormick, was killed in a C-130 plane crash fighting fires out west this summer. He leaves behind a bereaved wife, 3 young sons and a newborn daughter. Joe was a hero.

Remember the Oklahoma City bombing? Rebecca Needham Anderson, a nurse, heard the first 911 call and headed immediately to the devastated Murrah Federal Building so that she could aid the injured. Her husband, Fred, drove Rebecca to the scene of the disaster that morning of April 19, 1995. Shortly after arriving, Nurse Anderson was struck on the head by concrete falling from the collapsing building. She died five days later. Her heart, kidneys, eyes, and liver went to transplant recipients. Fred Anderson said, “She gave her life doing what she wanted to do, help people.”

Yes, we still have heroes to look up to. They are all around us, most unsung and unheralded, but still there. They are children who do the right things in the face of temptations to do otherwise. They are moms and dads who work hard as well as spend time and energy as parents and as caregivers for their own parents. Grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so many more are the everyday heroes that make our world so much better.

There was an important story that emerged from the Los Angeles riots some years ago. These were the same riots that made Rodney King a household name. A Hispanic man by the name of Fidel Lopez was trapped in the rioting. He was beaten within an inch of his life, battered by bottles and bats, punched in the face with angry fists, and kicked mercilessly, until an African-American minister, Bernie Newton, threw himself on top of him. Bernie Newton cried to the crowd, “If you kill this man, you’re going to have to kill me first.” When he finally out-shouted the rioters, he got Fidel into his car, and took him to the Daniel Freeman Hospital. Some time later, Rev. Newton raised $3000 from his own congregation to give to Fidel. That was the amount of money the rioters had stolen from him.

Later, Mr. Lopez asked Rev. Newton, “How can I begin to thank you? You saved my life. Why did you do what you did? Why did you risk your own life?” Bernie Newton answered, “Because I’m a Christian. Because I believe in sowing love not hate. Because I believe in healing and not hurting. Because I believe in Jesus the Prince of Peace and the Prince of love.”

This is the hope of the world – that there will be many people who will be heroes, doing great and small things to spread love where there is violence, hope where there’s despair. Jesus, the Hero of Heroes, is the model of heroic sacrifice, love, and passion. He is the greatest Hero. There are heroes all around us! There’s one inside you and I want to say, “Thanks!”

Daddy, October Sky, and the Underdog

Everyone has a story, a narrative with twists and turns, and value. This Advent season we think of Jesus’ story and freshly ponder the awe and mystery of the Holy Family. Joseph is a lowly carpenter betrothed to a young woman not much more than a girl who is pregnant not by him. I think about the Magnificat that Mary sings in Luke 2 and think about how God uses the humble and impoverished to confound the rich and exalted. This is our Christian narrative: God uses the weak to accomplish great things:  Simeon, old and near death, patiently waits in the temple to see the Savior; Anna age-old in years but fresh in the Spirit rejoices to see the Baby Jesus; lowly and marginalized shepherds hear the Angels’ chorus before anyone else. The Gospel of Christianity is replete with many such reversals of the ways of the world. We have a widow commended for giving her two small coins, a hated Tax Collector who becomes a Disciple and Gospel writer, unschooled fishermen who spread the Good News; undervalued women who become Jesus’ ardent supporters and first witnesses of his resurrection, a despised racially profiled Samaritan who becomes forever known as Good, and a crucified Christ who is risen from the dead. God pulls for the underdog!

I just watched the movie “October Sky” again while being home with a sore throat. Every time it leaves me in tears. I’m never completely sure why but I think it has to do with my father, Ralph Thomas McClendon. I’ve never tried to put this into words but today I feel compelled to tell his story and try to articulate his narrative and the Gospel through the vehicle of a movie. Daddy, like the Rocket Boys of Coalwood, West Virginia, reached for the stars. He was the youngest son of a family that had been through many tough times – a family raised in the “Dark Corner” of Edgefield County, South Carolina between Modoc and Red Hill. Daddy only got an 8th grade education. As a teenager he enlisted with the CCC’s (Civilian Conservation Corps) to learn a trade and send money home to his family hard-pressed by the Great Depression. In 1937 he ran off with my mother to get married after her father didn’t even turn around from stocking shelves to give him an answer to his question of asking for her hand. Daddy borrowed money from his brother Bruce in 1939 to take a chance and go to Reppert Auction School in Decatur, Indiana to learn how to be an auctioneer and graduated first in his class. In 1940 my oldest brother was born. My middle brother Ralph was born in 1947, and I came along unexpectedly in 1955. Daddy came from a poor family but by the grace of God and his determination made something of himself. At one time he owned five stockyards. He became known as Col. Ralph not because he served in the military and not just as an honorific title often given to auctioneers. He earned the title through accomplishment and respect.

Homer Hickam and the other Rocket Boys escaped their poverty to go to college and make the world a better place. They were at one time or another ostracized, arrested, or pushed into molds they couldn’t or wouldn’t fit. They made it! My Daddy made it. When he was just 48 he was given six weeks to six months to live because he had cancer that had metastasized. Amazingly he lived for 36 more years. At age 80 he lost his legs to diabetes and learned to walk on his prosthetic ones. Every Sunday he drove to church on those artificial legs. In his last days he went to church, came home, and his kidneys failed. In the hospital for his last two weeks of life he came and went in and out of consciousness. I’ll never forget his words to me as he awoke for the last time. He went over his funeral plans, gave some parting sage advice, and then added, “Oh, Son – You don’t have to put my fake legs in the casket. I won’t need them where I’m going.” It shouldn’t be a surprise that at the end of his funeral we sang “Lord of the Dance.” I was fine until that. I burst out in tears because I could see Daddy dancing a jig with Jesus.

He was a man not without foibles but his character was impeccable. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why God more often uses the lowly of the world. They are real, more authentic than beatific. As someone put it, “The branch that hangs the lowest bears the most fruit.” Daddy thought of others as better than himself, sometimes to a fault. He never forgot where he came from and it pushed him to excel. He was a character that laughed at adversity. Sure he worried sometimes about worrying but his driven nature more often sought solutions than sympathetic solace. He had a way with people that was uncanny. He could talk to the animals, too. My favorite photo of him is one with him standing in an open field with his hand on the hip of a cow and he’s between her and her calf. You just can’t do that, but he could.

Daddy encouraged us and gave us his own proverbs to live by. I can hear them now: “Any fool can make money, but it takes a smart man to save it.” “Give people a horse to ride home on when they’re angry.” “Love everybody.” Daddy lived all three consistently, except he didn’t save his money. He gave it all away. He invested in us, his church, strangers, family, and friends. He and mother were so much in need after their wedding that my mother’s parents took them in. In another reversal of fortune my Dad who could outwork anybody earned enough money so that when my mother’s two oldest brothers and father were desperately in need due to a not-to-be-shared event, he came to the rescue. He could have taken the family’s country store and all their houses but he settled for owning the homeplace and calling it even. That made for interesting dynamics but the ostracized country boy from the “Dark Corner” with an 8th grade education did the right thing. He loved my mother, he loved us, he loved Jesus and overcame the odds.

‘Tis the season for nostalgia for sure and the movie prompted me to think about my Dad’s upbringing and how he survived and thrived through hard times.  I also couldn’t help but shed a couple more tears as Miss Riley, the schoolteacher who inspired the boys, is fighting Hodgkin’s at the close of the film and in the postlude credits it’s stated that she dies at age 31 – the same age of my daughter Narcie who has a brain tumor. All the more reason to cling to our Christian narrative: Through Jesus we will overcome! That’s the message of Advent and Christmas for me this year. Thanks, Dad, for the reminder.

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!

Thanksgiving!

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in next week’s Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. In 117 years of football, South Carolina has only won 8 or more games three times. Need I say more? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. The same could be true for Clemson folks, too. USC is 8-2 and Clemson is 9-1! Wow! So, I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, and more so as a human being. Narcie just got her latest MRI results on the brain tumor and PRAISE GOD it isn’t growing!

            There are SO many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do.

            What are you thankful for this coming Thanksgiving? In a village inDenmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.

            Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.”

            A Biblical model for prayer starts with Adoration, praising God for who God is. Next is Confession as we repent and ask for forgiveness. Thanksgiving comes after confession as we express our gratitude to God for what God has done. Lastly, Supplication is when we ask God to supply the needs of others or ourselves. This A.C.T.S. model for prayer works if we end with supplication and begin with praise and thanksgiving.

            This Sunday is a time for us to express these altruistic sentiments. It’s not only Thanksgiving Sunday, but it’s also Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian Year. For a lot of churches this is the wrap-up for your stewardship campaign. In that vein I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $50,000.

            “What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $50,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???”

            Count and account for your blessings! Give Thanks!

Women Clergy and “Stained Glass Ceiling”

I have been traveling for the last 3 months to all the churches in the Columbia district presiding over charge conferences. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, I continue to hear gender bias and the dreaded phrase, “Some of our people won’t accept a woman as their pastor.” The church has long caused clergywomen to hit the “stained glass ceiling” of serving smaller parishes with lower salaries. As a justice issue, we should all agree that equal work should result in equal pay. I have two children who are Elders in the United Methodist Church, one daughter and one son. Narcie and Josh are both unique and are great! Of course, I’m prejudiced, but let me tell you as objectively as I can that both are better preachers and leaders, pastors and teachers than a lot of the clergy that I know. My daughter should not get short shrift because of her gender! She is excellent and she’s working harder than most male clergy AND she has the prolonged anxiety of a brain tumor on top of everything else. When people talk about women clergy in a disparaging way I want to say, “Give me a break!”

The church hasn’t always been this way about women’s leadership in Chirstianity. In the early church, women earned positions of prominence. During Jesus’ life it was primarily the largesse of working or wealthy women that provided the support that Jesus and the disciples needed (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:2-3). Women were the first to hear the news of the resurrection. Women were there at the prayer session in the Upper Room that led to the birth of the church at Pentecost. Phoebe was a Deacon in the church at Cenchrea that Paul greeted in Romans 16:1 and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist prophesied/preached (Acts 21:8). And where would the church be without Mary, the mother of Christ? Paul sums up the equality of Christian community in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It was also Paul who reminded St. Timothy of the source of his faith, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice,” and, how “from infancy you have known the holy scriptures (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).”

Therefore, if women were so indispensable at the beginning of the church, how can we imagine women being left out today? Unfortunately, the early church acceptance of women dissipated all too rapidly into an enculturated male-dominated entity. We have sadly experienced 2000 years of allowing the secular world shape the sacred. This is all the more reason to celebrate, rather than disparage the influence of women in the church. If it weren’t for the faith of my mother, grandmother, wonderful female Sunday School teachers and mentors (I never had a male teacher in grade school or at church), my faith would have either been nonexistent or desperately inadequate. Women are the core-supporters of many churches. United Methodist Women are invaluable as leaders in ministry and mission. I thank God for what they do in the Columbia District, the Annual Conference, and General church!

We need more women leaders (men, too, for that matter). Thank goodness the United Methodist Church has long supported the call of women into ordained ministry. Still, however, clergywomen are a minority and there are those who wish to keep it that way. Here’s my response to churches that don’t want a female pastor, “Get over it!”

Gender issues and discrimination should be a dead issue in every profession. We have made great strides, but there is room for growth. In 1888 there were only 5 laywomen and no clergywomen at the United Methodist General Conference. After approximately 90 years of almost no representation, in 1976 there were 10 clergywomen and 290 laywomen out of 1000 delegates at General Conference. In 1992, it was 81 clergywomen and 303 laywomen out of 1000. In 1996, it was 107 and 328 respectively. In 2000 the numbers were 112 clergywomen and 212 laywomen. In 2008, of the 996 delegates, 148 were clergywomen and 220 were laywomen. Forty percent of the total delegates were female.

The church certainly has more than 40% women despite the number of those elected. It seems that the gospel hasn’t caught up with us yet in the church. The secular world has laws and changing attitudes in its favor, but we have something even greater – God’s Spirit! The Church should be the leader, as it was in the beginning, in women’s rights!