Monday, April 29, 2013

Fret Not

The first two words of Psalm 37 (depending on translation) are, "Fret not."  I have a friend who used to say to me, "In the words of Psalm 37, 'fret not,'" whenever I called in distress about something.  Fret not?  I am a champion fretter.  I can fret with the best of them.  If you can think of it, I can worry about it.  Especially at night, when it's dark, and I'm trying to go to sleep, and there is nothing left to distract me.  Especially then, I get lost in the cycle of obsessive thinking, worrying, fretting.  It's an unpleasant way to live.

Most of the time, much of what I'm worrying about isn't that important in the scheme of things.  All of the time, worrying won't do anything to change the outcome anyway.  But still, it's so hard to "let go and let God," as they say.  I feel like giving up my worry is irresponsible, that it means I don't care.  No matter that worrying doesn't help anything and generally just makes me unhappy.

So, imagine my surprise when I woke up from the following dream on Friday morning.  In the dream I was on a plane.  I have no idea where I was going.  It seemed that the flight had been very short and was maybe toward some place with palm trees, like Florida.  All of a sudden the plane started heading straight down toward the ground.  I was asked to move something off the seat behind me, and when I looked out the window I knew there was no way we could avoid a crash.  I also knew, in that moment, that I was about to die.  For just a moment, I started to panic.  And then, I let go.  There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop the crash, and I just said, "Okay God, I'm coming to you.  I hope you're ready for me."  And then I thought about all my loved ones and for a split second, I considered trying to call and tell them I loved them, but there was no time.  So I just asked God to take care of them.  Then I released all worry and concern and waited for the crash.  It was as free as I've ever felt, trusting that God had me and that all would be well even though I was about to die.

We didn't crash.  Somehow the pilot pulled out of it at the last minute, and we didn't crash.  I even heard the pilots laughing about what a close call it was.  The next thing I knew we were driving along a road and heading up a hill, and I looked around and said, "Did the plane just turn into an SUV?"  We were in a much smaller vehicle, driving along the road.  Some kind of hybrid vehicle.  And then I woke up.

I hope I can remember the feeling that I had on the plane when I truly let go and let God and released all my fretting and worry and fear.  I wonder if I can get to that state again, now that I know what it felt like.  I hope so, because it was a place of great freedom and trust.  Fret not.  How good it felt not to fret!  And what an amazing solution - a plane that turns into a car.  So much of my fretting is about how I'm going to find a solution to any given problem.  And the worry amps up when I can't see the solution.  Often, God finds a solution I never could have dreamed of.  Maybe not quite as dramatic as a plane turning into a car, but equally unexpected. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


During exam week at Christopher Newport University, United Campus Ministries organizes the churches to sign up for slots to provide snacks for the students between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day of the exams.  We can bring any kind of snack as long as it's individually wrapped.  Homemade, store-bought, sweet, salty, healthy, junk, fruit, water, etc.  Yesterday was the day that St. Stephen's and St. Andrew's in Newport News handed out the snacks.  I had put out the announcement a couple of weeks ago and was completely surprised when I walked into the church kitchen yesterday and saw the variety and abundance of snacks that people had contributed. 

I met our volunteers at the assigned table in the David Student Union, and we started putting the snacks out.  We had way too many snacks for the table, so we kept boxes to the side and I left some boxes in the car.  We had homemade cookies and muffins and trail mix, protein bars, chips, cheese/cracker packs, cookie packs, fruit snack packs, pretzels, pringles, combos, and candy of many varieties.  As we yelled out "free snacks" and tried to convince the students that they did not have to pay for the snacks or join anything in order to get the snacks, they either approached quickly or sidled up, still looking for the strings that were attached.  Several of them said, "What's the catch?" 

Most of them were overwhelmed by the abundance.  They had a hard time choosing because there were so many options.  And as soon as they took items, we replaced them with more.  I couldn't help thinking that if heaven were like a giant 7-11 in the sky, then our snack table would be like the heavenly banquet.  What kept occurring to me even more was how the table of snacks, similar to the widow's meal and oil that just kept replenishing itself after she shared it with Elijah, was a metaphor for God's abundant love.  It just doesn't run out.  The ways that God blesses us are as varied as the snacks on that table - there's something for everyone! 

I am so grateful to the folks at St. Stephen's and St. Andrew's for their generosity and for those who came out to show the students in a very tangible way that they are loved.  And I'm grateful to the students who expressed such kindness and gratitude once they overcame their initial fear of those crazy people shouting, "free snacks!"  They got a lesson in receiving yesterday.  Most of them would only take one snack until we urged them that there was plenty and that they could take as much as they wanted.  The volunteers told me how much they enjoyed getting to meet the students, however briefly.  With all the terrible tidings in the news these days, the volunteers were delighted to see so many polite, kind-hearted young people.  Everyone who participated was blessed.

Thanks, God, for providing opportunities for giving and receiving.  Thanks for showing us the way to ease just a little of the stress these students feel as the prepare for and take their final exams.  Thanks for pouring out your love through a table of snacks! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shield the Joyous

One of the loveliest collects in the Book of Common Prayer is found in the Evening Prayer and Compline services.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.   (BCP. page 132)

I have always loved this prayer, but the line, "shield the joyous" used to stand out to me as odd.  Shield the joyous?  Why do the joyous need shielding?  Aren't they already happy?  "Shield the joyous" is what I would have prayed at the finish line of the Boston marathon had I known what was about to happen.  Those runners crossing the finish line with a mixture of relief, exhaustion, and joy needed a shield against what would happen next.  If only there had been a shield big enough to protect the runners and crowds from the explosions of the bombs.

I remember when my mom was diagnosed with cancer the 2nd time.  She had come to visit me in Norfolk with a friend, and we had lots of fun activities lined up.  She told me she had had an abnormal mammogram.  It seems to me that it was going to be about a month before she would hear the results of further testing.  She had decided that she was not going to worry because there would be nothing to worry about.  I remember praying "Shield the joyous" during that time, hoping that there would be no cause for worry, trying to live in the present moment and enjoy every minute of it in case the news was bad.  She did have cancer, and there were many months when our prayer shifted to tend the sick, give rest to the weary, soothe the suffering, and pity the afflicted.  

The whole prayer is appropriate now for all who were affected by the events in Boston and Texas last week.  And, of course, the whole prayer is always appropriate for people around the world in a variety of situations.  Tonight, God, I pray again, shield the joyous.  We never know what's around the next bend.  Help us to appreciate our joy in the moment.