First United Methodist Church

Devotion: Amos 8

Devotion: I Am Listening

Hello, Church Family, and Happy Fall!

Thank you for the prayers, presents, gift cards and words of love and encouragement over these last four weeks. Our little Elizabeth Pearl has been a blessing and our home is filled with a lot of snuggles, kisses and lots of joy. I have included a few pictures for you to see how much she has already grown. I can’t wait for you to meet her in person.

I wanted to take a few minutes to share what God has been teaching me on this Maternity Leave and I hope it will speak to your heart and where you find yourself today. Those that know me would not describe me as a person that “slows down” well. I have always been on the go. I run from one thing to the other, I fill our schedules with adventures and fun, I take our “big kids” to the park or a splash pad or the museum whenever possible and I don’t often sit and rest. I like being on the move, I like chasing the next big adventure and I don’t like sitting idle. I have often joked that multitasking is my middle name. I make lists of things to do constantly, and I often allow myself to feel guilty if I haven’t gotten enough done, even if it is a Saturday.

This is how I am wired, but it isn’t always life-giving.

Towards the end of this pregnancy, if you saw me, you could tell I was running out of steam. I was tired, had low energy, lost my patience more with my kids and I felt like there wasn’t enough time to get all of the last-minute things accomplished. I felt a sense of responsibility to finish everything on my plate as to not burden my Teammates.

But then something beautiful happened. I had a baby and was FORCED to slow down. Every one of you that has been in the presence of a newborn in your life knows what I am talking about. Babies run on a different time schedule and in fact, they don’t run at all. They sleep and eat and capture your devotion a whole lot, but they don’t run and they don’t rush. Ellie is no exception. She has been the beautiful reminder of slowing down, sitting, snuggling, eating slowly, staying in yoga pants all day and being present. She also doesn’t talk yet and asks me a million questions as our big kids do, so I spend a lot more time quiet and listening. I listen to her breathing, her little noises, the sound of the baby swing or the washing machine and the sound of my own soul slowing down.

What God is teaching me in this season of Maternity Leave is just to listen. To wait and anticipate how God might show up in the silence. How I might experience God’s love as I watch our older two love on their little sister, or how my husband tenderly holds her, or why she might be smiling while she sleeps and how peace is found when we give ourselves a longer list of gracious moments than a list of To-Dos. I am relearning what I have always known but haven’t always practiced which is that God is just as much in the stillness as in the chaos, but that we are more in touch with the life-giving peace when we quiet our minds and slow our roll.

It comes down to listening, deep listening. In one of the devotions I have been reading during this time, a contributor to this email wrote about a friend from Belarus who answers the phone not with the common greeting that we are used to, “Hello, who is this?” or “Hello, yes this is she.” But the friend from Belarus answers every phone call with the phrase, “I am listening.” And isn’t that refreshing? Prayer or a time of Contemplative Silence that I am engaging in on a much deeper level, is my being present to God by responding, “I am listening.”

I pray that as you walk through your daily routines, as you study Scripture, as you join with other followers of Jesus on this journey, that you are finding more ways to LISTEN. It looks different for everyone, but it is life-giving all the same.  I pray that you are opening a space, every day at least once to be present with God in a slowed down and open sort of way. I pray that you sit down at your couch, or drive in your car, or rest in your bed and open that line of communication back to the Almighty with the words, “I am LISTENING” and I pray that you will wait to hear God’s words of grace back to you.

Church, I look forward to being back with you and serving alongside of you again soon. Thank you for the love you have poured out on me and my family these last few months. Know that I pray for you and your families as well. May you find some time this week to turn off the TV, put down your phone, silence the radio and open yourself up to God’s stillness and boldly LISTEN to what God might be teaching you.

AMEN

Devotion: Amos 6

Devotion: History of the Israelites (Amos 5)

Devotion: The Greyhound Bus

I want to tell you a story; so grab your morning coffee or afternoon cup of tea and see if you can picture where God was at work in this experience.

This past weekend I had a little adventure. One of my dear friends from seminary is getting ready to get married and once she gets married, she will move down to Florida to join her husband. In seminary, we had a Covenant Group of 7 women, all young United Methodists, all on either the deacon or elder track and we have seen each other through a lot. I was the first one of us to get married and the first to become a mother. Each of us has been at or in each other’s weddings and we have thrown countless showers in support of each other over the years even though I am in Florida, four are in North Georgia, one is in California, and one is in England. My seminary sister Brittany is the last of us to get married, and so the rest of us wanted to throw her a Bridal shower. We decided on having it in Alpharetta right outside of Atlanta and so began the quest of getting there at 8 months pregnant. I immediately vetoed driving myself 16 hours this close to my due date and flying didn’t seem like a possibility either, so I bought a roundtrip bus ticket on the Greyhound.

Yes, you read that right. I headed out Friday morning and came back at 1:30am on Sunday morning. People thought I was CRAZY! Maybe you do too while reading this but let me tell you all of the ways Jesus showed up on the Greyhound bus this past weekend.

First, this idiot pastor of yours thought there was such a thing as “long-term” parking at the Orlando Greyhound station. (I clearly didn’t do my research). When I arrived Friday morning and realized that there were only Tow-Away zones on the property, I immediately began to pray for a solution. I found a woman in an official uniform and explained the situation. I told her that this was my first time at Greyhound (obviously) and did she know of another property within walking distance that I could park at? I explained that my husband is a pastor and we had two small kids and so coming to pick me up in the middle of the night early on a Sunday morning wasn’t ideal. She stopped what she was doing, asked me where my car was parked and wrote down my plate details. Then she told the Security Guard, while pointing at my car, “You see that black car with the Florida plates and the missing hubcap, don’t tow it. This pregnant woman will be back for it early Sunday morning!”

I was in awe of this and asked her how she was able to pull such strings and she said, “Sweetie, I’m the manager here!”

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

When it was time to board, I vigilantly watched my blue suitcase to make sure it got loaded onto the bottom of the bus, which it almost didn’t, but at the last minute a handler retrieved and threw it on right before we backed away from the station.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

I managed to secure a seat all by myself and keep a seat to myself which gave me much more room than I would have gotten even on an airplane. And every time we made a stop and more people got on, I silently prayed, “don’t pick the seat next to me, please” and for 8 hours there and back, I kept a seat to myself.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

When I returned to Orlando early on Sunday morning, low and behold, my car was still there, but right beside it was a giant branch that had fallen and broken apart and had I parked one spot over, would have cracked my windshield.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

I share this story with you because I saw God show up a whole lot more this past weekend because I was in an uncomfortable situation. While I will choose faster travel means in the future, I marveled at the opportunity it presented me to see a different part of God’s people. Don’t get me wrong, I have traveled extensively across Europe and have always been open to new adventures. I usually travel with others though and never at 8 months pregnant. What God reminded me so clearly this weekend is just how much God loves His people. Not just the people I interact with at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park or my children’s school or in the Central Florida region. God loves the Haitian man that sat behind me and the man with face tattoos and the woman with a broken cell phone and the family who had to carry their belongings in a plastic bag. God loves me as much as God loves them. They may never have other means or resources to be able to travel as I do, but they are no less light bearers in this world. The woman from New York who was trying to get to Brunswick who had been on a bus for 30 hours offered me part of her meal because she could see I am pregnant. You see, God’s light and grace is all around us if we have the courage to look into its eyes and see the face of Christ.

What I am beginning to see more and more, is that the rest of the world does not live like you and me. Most of us are living in a privileged state and comfortable with our resources and means. This is not a state of judgment, only observation. And I would say that when we live with means, we need experiences like I had this weekend to be reminded about the vastness and wide diversity of God’s love. I think there is also something to be said about when we are uncomfortable or in less than comfy situations, it CAN open us up to seeing God at work in ways we never expected.

And so my prayer for you and my challenge for those in this faith community is to never turn down the opportunity to be in less than ideal situations because, in my experience, that is when God shows up in mighty ways. If you don’t believe me, look at a majority of the stories of transformation in Scripture and you will see a God that came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I believe Jesus came to shake things up in our lives with people not like us to show us just how high, how deep and how great is His love for us…for all of us.

…Okay, thank you Jesus!

Wednesday Devotion: Smelling like the Sheep

In reading and researching for this devotion today, I came across this quote from St. Francis Assisi. Throughout the history of the movement of the Church, there are examples of people who show extreme kindness and compassion for those in their spheres of influence. One such person that lived this out is St. Francis Assisi (1194-1253). People like Assisi practiced the great compassion of Jesus in the communities they found themselves. They led, not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep.” I love this way of articulating the version of Kindness and Compassion that we are called to live out. What does that phrase mean to you and how does it tie to what we heard about kindness throughout this week?

Over and over again, people were compared to sheep in the Bible and God or Jesus was referred to as the Great Shepherd. While it isn’t always a flattering comparison of us (sheep being stupid and all), the point is clear, we can only “smell like the sheep” when we get to the place by being WITH the people. We are doing life with them enough so much so that we start to smell like them. Jesus called us to do life with others in less than comfortable or glamorous places and to reach people where there is need, not where our preferences are met. This takes on many forms. Some are intense and extreme and only happen a few times in our lives, like the story that Pastor David shared about Julio Diaz, the social worker from the Bronx who showed kindness to the young man who tried to rob him at knifepoint. But then there are other less extreme examples of “smelling like the sheep” when we stop in the busyness of our day to jump someone’s car battery, or use our umbrella to walk a mom with two kids on her hip to her car in the pouring rain or pay for the person’ coffee behind us in the Starbucks line. The more we live with people, especially people in need, the more we start to “smell” like them.

As I was driving home last night, I heard this powerful story on NPR about how young Polish adults are responding to the Ukrainian refugee crisis and how their kindness and compassion has left them changed, or “smelling like the sheep.” Since the war in Ukraine began, almost 3 million Ukrainian refugees have come to Poland for safety. Polish people have given their time, talent and even space in their homes to help fellow brothers and sisters. One of the reporters interviewed three Polish young adults living in Warsaw and asked them how their work with Ukrainian refugees was changing them and those in their generation. One of the Polish young adults shared how on the day the war started, she couldn’t stop crying, so instead of wallowing or simply hoping things would improve, she and her roommates decided to do something about it. They opened their apartment to not one, but 8 Ukrainian refugees and are currently sharing a small space with lots of people for almost 3 months now. Her deep sadness over the war and her interactions with the refugees made her reevaluate everything she did in her life. What a powerful statement that gets to the heart of the Kingdom. The more we are with the people and smell like the sheep, we begin to reevaluate our life, our priorities, our prejudices, our wants and needs and then slowly, little by little Kingdom seeds are planted and cultivated.

What I found most interesting about the interview is that this wasn’t always the case. When the Syrian refugee crisis broke out 5 years ago, there wasn’t nearly the same response. Poland’s borders were closed and they were not welcoming to refugees. And I believe a lot of lessons were learned through that. No country is perfect, no group of people has it all figured out, but in this story, I see how grace gives second chances and we will never run out of opportunities to be kind and compassionate. If we ignore or shrug off one, more will come our way because that is the way God’s refining fire works. We could speed past an opportunity to be kind at the beginning of the day, but then see it with fresh eyes at the end of the day. We will never run out of opportunities to share God’s love and grace with others. And if we are willing to be people that serve and love and have compassion on the people we are doing life with, we will end up smelling like the sheep and never be the same again.

That is my prayer for me, for you and for all followers of Jesus. May God add God’s blessing to the reading and digesting of this thought.

AMEN

Wednesday Devotion: Too Much Energy

Last night Ryan, the kids and I were settling down to eat our dinner of a Taco feast and I asked who wanted to pray. Emmaline was the first to volunteer and as always, she gives the most beautiful prayers with deep love and adoration for God and thankfulness for her food and everyone, I mean everyone listed out in her family. Then Charlie offered up his prayer: “Peanut Butter, Jelly Sandwich.

When it’s time to pray, we bow our heads and say, Thank you God for EVRYTHING this Happy, Happy Day! AMEN
“Beautiful Prayer Charlie,” I respond and then I add, “Would you like to say a prayer all of your own?” (Trying to teach our kids to speak from the heart)

To which he responded, with a long, exasperated sigh, “Ahhhh, no thanks, that just takes too much energy!”

Well, okay, not what we were planning to hear, but point taken kid, point taken.

Ryan and I looked at each other and laughed but in that moment, I was reminded of the importance of authenticity and rest. You see, in his 4-year old heart, his Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer was plenty good for Jesus and he just wanted to get on with eating his taco…thank you very much. But I was the one pushing for the performance of faith; he was the one actually living it out. I was the one trying to teach deep theology and perfected prayer language to my 4-year old and he was just being himself before his Creator.

His honest and truthful response reminded me of our need to just be ourselves before the one that loves us more than we could ever know. Charlie’s exasperated sigh also taught me that the practice of faith shouldn’t be exhausting but it should be exhilarating. Charlie’s facial expression reminded me that sometimes the world expects too much of us and God is inviting us instead just to rest in God’s presence.

As I thought on this experience more today and then wove it through my experience of the lesson of Forgiveness on Sunday, I wonder how many of my brothers and sisters struggle to forgive others because they have not forgiven themselves. I grew up in a very healthy church without a lot of toxicity and drama. As a young Christian, I was encouraged to ask questions, be my true self and that grace is offered even in my failures. But how many of us have grown up in a church, or family or denomination that sought to “prove one’s holiness?” How many of those people that we love are carrying spiritual trauma done to them by a faith leader or spiritual leader or one’s own interpretation of the Scriptures? I don’t know all of your stories, but my heart breaks for those that have so much shame piled on them because they felt like being a Christian was more about the perfect performance rather than a friendship with the perfect Savior.

My prayer for you is to embrace your imperfections and questions and doubts and incomplete prayers and inability to forgive yourself, and let Jesus turn it into something beautiful. To let beautiful things come from ashes. I hope you never hear me say that your Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich prayer isn’t “good enough” and I hope you never fall into the trap of thinking that worshipping and following Jesus “takes too much energy.” Truthfully, when done the right way, following Jesus and being who you truly are leads to abundant life; a life that is free and unshackled and isn’t out to prove anything. Maybe we struggle with forgiveness because we have forgotten that. Maybe you are too far removed from our honest, child-like selves that call things out for what they really are. Know that you can always come to Jesus as you are, bringing what is your best and letting God fill in the gaps. And so I encourage you this week to be honest about what is life-giving in your spiritual practices and what wears you out. Pursue that which brings you abundance of life because at the end of the day, it isn’t about our perfection, but about our God’s perfect love.

Tuesday Devotion: Forgive One Another

A Wiggly, Jiggly, Loose Tooth Kind of Faith

It was an exciting weekend in the DeLaune household; Emmaline lost her first tooth! Her bottom middle one has been loose for almost a month and several of her friends in her Kindergarten class had already lost a few of theirs. For weeks she has been eating extra apples and wiggling it at night. We even took her to see one of the Pediatric Dentistry Nurses to check and see how long we should wait before helping her pull it out. But over the last week, it became apparent that it was time because her new tooth had grown in behind it and was already showing. While there was fear and a little bit of pain behind this first new experience, she bravely, with the help of her Daddy, pulled it out on Sunday afternoon. She was so proud of herself for this milestone and that she had had the guts to do it. While Sunday night was filled with conversations about what the tooth fairy might leave for her and what she should do if she wakes up and meets the tooth fairy, my Mommy/Pastor brain was processing the pain and joy of change.

God created our bodies to naturally move and shift during transition. Sometimes it is a little painful, with a tiny bit of blood like when we lose our baby teeth, but the losing of one thing makes room for something bigger, better and more permanent. Our bodies were created as we grow to embrace biological change, movement, shifting and new beginnings and while scary at first, they open us up to opportunities and situations that are bigger, better and more permanent. But it doesn’t just happen in our bodies, but as spiritual beings, we are all changing hopefully to look more like Jesus. In order to do that, things have to fall out or be removed so that the permanent foundations of our faith, spiritual practice and deep relationships can move on to being Bigger and Better.

Are you following my logical here? I am comparing the loss of teeth to the loss of hurts or habits or sin or brokenness that is painful at first to let go of, but makes room for something much more sustainable in the long run. It is the same comparison the Apostle Paul makes about Christian maturity and moving from spiritual milk to solid food in his writings. As we grow from a young faith, to a mature faith, we would call that Sanctification, we are growing into our permanent and strong selves that reflect the light of Christ.

Right after the famous 1 Corinthians 13 text that is often read at weddings, the Apostle Paul finishes his chapter with verses 8-13. 

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

If you would, take a moment to reflect on how you have “put away childish things” as Paul writes. Like Emmaline’s loss of her first tooth, the pain of losing it actually made room for good to come next, for maturity to continue. But we all have something. Some of us have experienced more loss than others over the last few years and so I invite you to reflect on that and name the pain associated with it. Name the discomfort in losing your routine, your comfort, your friendships, your freedoms, your expectations or maybe even your health over these last few years. Then after you name that thing or relationship, lament to God about how it felt to lose something you held so dear. Cry out to God, like we see over and over again in the Psalms and be honest about how much it hurt to get used to something only to see it disappear. It isn’t selfish or childish to name these feelings aloud, it is simply HUMAN and God invites you to speak because God never ceases to listen.

Pause and wait in your lament. Sit in your discomfort. Rest in your honesty.

Then, as you slowly move out of your lament, turn your thoughts to the new space that has made room in your life for something BIGGER and BETTER. Like Emmaline’s new adult tooth, it was ready to come in and so it had to push that baby tooth out of the way. What good and natural thing now has space in your life and faith to grow? What is developing in you, now that something from your young faith has been let go of? Maybe it is how you have let go of people-pleasing and now focus more on pleasing God. Maybe it is spending less time trying to be perfect and more time resting in God. Maybe you let go of a toxic relationship or an abusive understanding of Scripture or an authoritarian view of the faith? Wherever you have seen the loss and the letting go, give thanks because God is always up to something GOOD.

AMEN

Lenten Devotion: Making Ourselves Home in God’s Love

The truth is, I am actually a home-body. I love adventures and traveling, I do, but I love my time at home. Ever since leaving my parent’s home and moving away to college, I have had almost 10 homes or apartments since entering adulthood. As I have occupied them for as little as a year and as long as four years, each one has a different size, location, pros and cons, but I have made my home in each. (I guess this is a learned trait as an itinerate pastor). While I love traveling and exploring with my children, our pace has changed a bit lately. As they grow and life gets busier and busier, I am learning to be content much more with our valuable time at home. Time that we can enjoy each other, play with our toys, create new worlds, clean and organize our reality and entertain loved ones. There is something so holy about a home and how it feels to belong to one.

As I process the Scripture from Sunday and the way it changes who I am becoming, I enjoy reading this Scripture John through a different version. Here is a portion of that Scripture from The Message.

5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.  John 15:5-10

While the sermon focused on remaining in God and showing our love not to earn God’s love, but because of it, this thought of “making myself at home in his love” really resonates with me. Think about that for a minute. How do we make ourselves at home in God’s love?

Well, how do you make yourself at home in your home? For me, I am most comfortable in my pajamas, or my comfy clothes. I kick off my shoes and wipe the day off of my face. If I am awarded those rare, calm moments, my legs are up on our couch or I’m snuggling with my kids or reading a book with them on my lap. In our house there is usually singing and noise and one talking over the other, there is clutter and playdoh pieces, Legos and half-finished drawings. There is unfolded laundry, books scattered all over and beds always unmade. This is what it means to feel at home for me.

How do you make yourself at home? And how does that translate into you remaining in the True Vine? Are you comfortable and relaxed, or are you all dressed up and ready to perform? Are you bare in your clutter and messes and disorganized thought, or do you feel the need to clean up quickly as if guests are coming over? Do you spend time and just BE in the presence of Christ by loving those God has blessed you with or are you always wanting more?

If remaining in God is about making ourselves at home in His love, then we look to Jesus for the example. We see his vulnerability, trust, openness and deep need to connect to His Father. Over and over again we see Jesus at home in God’s love through their intimate connection and relationship. And we are invited to do the same. What would it look like if you approached your relationship with God like you do your own home? What would have to change in you to reach that level of comfort and vulnerability? As we near closer and closer to Jesus’ final week on earth, what is one way that you can tweak your relationship with God that feels more familial and more at peace as you grow?

May God add God’s blessing to the reading and the meditating of these words.

AMEN