Category Archives: prayer

A Lesson from the Birds

We have experience much change in the past two months, and as I (Dan) sit at the water’s edge this morning I have finally made a moment to write. (We’ll see how far I get until the mosquitoes get the best of me.) My retreat at Rolling Ridge Conference Center ends in a few hours, and I give thanks for the time spent here.

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We find ourselves in transition again. I finished at Global Ministries in August and began a new appointment in Massachusetts in September.

The birds stopped me on my way to the lake this morning. Specifically, a few woodpeckers. I breathed deeply as I watched the sun glisten on their wings as they flew from tree to tree. I waited expectantly for them to find the places on the trees they wanted to peck. I listened exultantly as they tapped out their chorus which echoed through the woods.

I’m not sure if they knew they were doing something extraordinary, because they were just doing what they were created to do. Yet their bobbing red tufts offered joy and peace as I embark on this new adventure. I have uncertainties and doubts and hopes and anxieties and excitement about the steps in the weeks and months ahead. And while I’m not always sure how to do certain tasks ahead, I need to remember some lessons from the birds: I have been created with gifts and talents, and I know how to use them. Rather than over analyze the trees, I need to fly to one, find a spot and start pecking, and if that doesn’t work out then I just need to fly to another tree.

I realize as I reread this that it might not make much sense to someone not inside my head. Well, it is what it is – a beginning of pecking. I guess I will just have to fly to a different tree and try again.

Peace ~ Dan

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How Can I not Cry today?

Having to travel today distracted me. I could watch the TV from a distance – literally and figuratively – while I walked through security and boarded my flight.

But I had a layover. I tried to do emails and distract myself in other ways while murmuring simple prayers for these families in CT. I had to stop and sit.

I grieve for and with the parents who said goodbye for the last time at the bus stop; who sang their last lullaby last night; who ruffled the hair one last time; who gave a final kiss on a forehead…

It made me think of those parents around the world who did the same thing yesterday. Who didn’t know a marketplace bomb would shatter their world; who didn’t expect a trip to the water pump would result in a kidnapping; who will never see their children again.

Last night as colleagues and I drove to dinner we talked about pastoring amidst crisis and tragedy, and then we turned on the news today.

I sit in this airport lounge and wonder how can I not grieve and cry in the midst of the pain in this world. I am beyond trying to understand and explain why this happens… It reminds me of this book I’m reading in which a Jewish child who survives WWII in Europe continually asks people close to her, “Is there a plan in all of this?” She asks other questions, which people ask in times of tragedy.

Seeking solace ad prayer through music I stumbled across this song by Güngör. It speaks of pain and redemption. I don’t think it is perfect, and I don’t want people to think they need to rush through pain to redemption. However, it points to hope, and it reminds me that death and tragedy are never the ends of the story.

In short, this song helped me to pray, as did a prayer I heard a few weeks ago: “the pain may not have an end at this time, yet it will have an end in time.”

Here is a link to watch the song on youtube:
Beautiful Things by Güngör

Here are the lyrics:
With all this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new
You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

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My Hope Lives On

Last night, Courtney and I went to an Andrew Peterson concert for date night. AP not only puts on good show, yet he also weaves his gifts of storytelling, humor, song-writing, and deep faith into a beautiful tapestry for the heart, soul, body, and mind.

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It felt refreshing to soak in the deep truth his songs offered, reminding me in light of this past week, that we belong to a bigger story – a better story – than death, tragedy, ad despair. In fact God’s story for all of creation resounds with redemption, restoration, and rejuvenation.
He started with “All Things New,” after a few songs and stories made his way to “Lay Me Down,” and he ended with “After the Last Tear Falls.”
I wish he would have sung “In The Night (My Hope Lives On)”, yet time constraints from the venue prevented him from performing these gems. On the other hand, though, maybe he didn’t need to sing them as those familiar with his music would have played them internally building on the truths of hope and grace and peace.
Thank God for a blessed and gifted musician like Andrew Peterson.
Click on the links to these songs to listen to them on YouTube.

All Things New

Lay Me Down

After the Last Tear Falls

In The Night

Hosanna

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A Fresh Stream of Tears

“They buried the boy today.”
Hearing this phrase today during a service of prayer and intercession opened a fresh stream of tears.
On Tuesday, the roof collapse in a student center in L’Viv, Ukraine killed a Ukrainian student and a mission volunteer working on a remodeling project. The Global Ministries missionary, David Goran, suffered serious injuries and spent 36 hours in a local hospital without antibiotics or pain medicine before being airlifted to Munich, Germany to receive appropriate medical care.
You can read more this story in the official press release from Global Ministries by clicking here.
The questions and tears came and went periodically on Tuesday after I heard the news. I slept fitfully. Wednesday morning on the train I didn’t write in my journal – i didn’t know where to begin with all of the thoughts and questions. I cried under my sunglasses as I watched the video produced a few months ago about the faith journey of young adult who died on Tuesday. (You can watch his story here.)
I decided to read in an attempt to take a mental breath, yet Frederick Buechner has a way of extracting words from me when I least feel like writing.
Buechner talked of people traveling to hear preachers preach, and how all of them “carried [their] world on [their] back the way a snail carries his shell.” Preachers and people, with all of their joys, sorrows, celebrations, and disappointments, desiring to hear something. What?
At this point I started writing in the book – it is a mixture of commentary, thought, and prayer:

They traveled to hear a word. I can imagine them saying, “Speak to us. Tell us something, anything. Or, rather speak to us a Truth that makes sense in our time, our places, our circumstances, our milieux.” I wonder if that sounds similar to our words today. And I wonder if these words, ultimately, are directed to God rather than the preacher, “Speak to us a word of passion – a word of direction – a word of challenge – a word of hope. Speak to us so that we know we are not alone that we are not forgotten. Speak to us so that we know that You, God, have not forgotten us. Hosanna – Speak to Us. Hosanna – Help Us. Hosanna – Heal us. Maybe we should learn from Job and wait in silence. Maybe we should not heed the council of Job’s friends and demand answers. But silence is hard when we are lost, uncertain, or hurting. And so we long for answers.
God of Silence and God of Speech (the Psalmist’s “How Long” echoes in my head), Creating God whose very word calls forth life, Break your silence and Speak to us! speak to us, please. We can demand. We can beg. We can plead. We can simply ask. Speak to us. Give us a Word in this time.”

I imagine these may echo ancient Israel words to their prophets and to God – in Egypt, in Exile, in Palestine – longing for an answer; longing for God to deliver them and free them from their oppression, their bondage, their fear, their pain, and maybe even from themselves.

“…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and the darkness could not comprehend it and the darkness could not overcome it…”

Christians believe that God has answered. Christians hope that God will continue to answer. God answers our cries with presence. As Christians, we are the body of Christ in this world. We can be God’s presence to those around us, and others can be God’s presence to us – God’s grace, love, hope, challenge, comfort, healing, and peace. Hosanna – speak to us. Hosanna – help us. Hosanna – heal us.
Alleluia.
Amen.

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Memory and Hope: A Eulogy for Nonna

I had the blessed privilege of giving a eulogy at my Grandma’s funeral yesterday morning. I wanted to share it here.

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Memory and Hope

Today we remember Louisa DiFalco, who – either directly or indirectly – has affected all of us. She was known as – Flav’s, Maria’s, or Carolyn’s mom – Gram – Nonna – Mother – Cousin – Friend – Avon lady – and now, a member of the communion of saints.

To remember is to have memories, and, of Gram, we have plenty. Sometimes it is a difficult thing for me to think about Gram with the Alzheimer’s and how her memory continued to dwindle these past few years. However, her retreating memory also unearthed some beautiful treasures as she recounted stories from her childhood many people had never heard, providing a fuller picture of this woman who was so full of life for so many years. No matter how much she forgot, though, two of the things that she knew without a doubt until the end were these:
Her name was Louisa DiFalco, and she was 100% Italian.

Death is sad for many reasons, and today because of saying goodbye. However, remembering Gram is a joyous thing.

C.S. Lewis is a theologian and author probably most famously known for “The Chronicles of Narnia” stories. He also wrote some lesser known stories. In one of them he portrays a scene in which two characters need to say goodbye. Both are sad, one indignantly so. The response of the other character, though, provides a good perspective and, I believe, a bit of hope for us.

Here is the excerpt:

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking…as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing… What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure… When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it…, what it makes in me all my days…that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) Hyoi, p. 73

Some of the memories and stories of Gram that came to mind this past week had me imagine the following scene, so please indulge me for a moment as I share it with you:

After asking St. Peter if he has ever had Italian food, she inquires if the disciples were Italian. Peter responds, “No Louisa, they were Jewish.” She replies, “Well, I guess that’s okay, they seem nice anyway.” And then she proceeds to fill their bowls with homemade pasta and meatballs. When they politely decline thirds she nods ascent as she gives them just a little more of each in their bowls.

I remember Nonna’s hospitality and love: the ever-full cookie tins in the hallway, how she always had hugs to give, and how sometimes she would scratch our backs. In Colorado, when her arms became too weak to fully embrace, she would hold faces in her crooked hands – our faces and those of the staff where she lived – and she would give kisses on the forehead, cheeks, and eyes.

Gram’s hospitality reminds me of the hopeful reality that God invites all of us to come, receive love, and give it to others – even if we don’t think we are worthy of love or in need of love or capable of loving. Gram reminds me that all of us can love in our corner of the world each and every day, and in doing so, participate in God’s Holy work of healing the world

And so that is what we have, memories and hope. We have memories that will continue to deepen every time we see an Avon sign, hear someone talk about homemade pasta, or smell the sweet lemony fragrance of mammarrellas. And we have hope, that Gram’s story, just like each of our stories, belongs to a bigger story of God’s love for Creation. A love mirrored in the compassion and presence of friends and family in this time, and a love offered and possible to experience deeply in those dark moments when we feel alone.

Thank you, God, for allowing us to know Nonna. Please encourage us to know Your love as we remember her love. Help us to know Your presence as we now journey without her presence. Amen.

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Saying Goodbye to a Saint

I said goodbye to a Saint today. I held his hand, and his smile – unhindered by the oxygen line – made me want to sing and cry at the same time. He knew his time was short. I only was with him for a minute or so because of family and doctors, but when I heard this was probably his last day I wanted to say goodbye.
In all honestly, I didn’t know him very well. I worshipped with him a couple dozen times; and in so doing I sang with him, shared God’s peace with him, offered him the “Bread of Heaven” and the “Cup of Salvation,” and shared in some coffee and snacks after services sometimes. I watched him smile at Ceara and Caleb and laugh as he tried to make them laugh.
I wish I knew him better personally. I have heard stories of this saint, though, – stories that won’t make it on “Dateline”, in an issue of “Time”, and they probably won’t even make the local paper. Yet there are stories of selfless giving of himself to care for others, stories of patient love, and stories of generosity for the sake of the Church (not as the institution, yet as the Body of Christ in this world). These stories reinforce the belief of Church historian, Justo Gonzales, that Christianity continues today not because of the famous few throughout the ages, rather Christianity continues today because God works through the countless, nameless, faceless, faithful followers of Jesus throughout history to transform the world. The amazing thing is that God knows each and every one of their faces, names, and lives. I am thankful to have known the name and face of this man.
May His family know God’s presence and comfort in the days ahead, and may God continue to use the life of this saint to work transformation and healing in this world. Amen.

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A Letter on Transition, Prayer, and “Home”

A friend wrote to me recently sharing thoughts about his current state of transition. Over coffee this morning I wrote the following response, and I wanted to post these thoughts on home, transition, and faith. The thoughts don’t come to a conclusion, rather they just end. My hope is, though, if any truth lay in these words, then your life might connect to that truth on some level.

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Here is the email:

Again, thank you for sharing. I thank God for our friendship. I will continue to pray for you. I am so excited that you will be going to Africa soon! I am excited because you are pursuing what you have discerned as God’s direction for your life at this time. I am excited because God can transform us when we accept the invitation to join in God’s holy work of healing the world. I am excited because your future is unknown, yet you have placed your trust in God. I am excited because your life is not alone nor the first to embark on this journey nor the last to do so, because your life falls in step with a long line of faithful followers who did not know what was in store – the joys, pains, friendships, heartbreaks, etc. – but they knew they were pursuing God.

I cannot say how or when, yet I am hopeful that God will meet you in this time and give you what you need in your heart, soul, mind, and strength to wade through your emotions, thoughts, fears, and inclinations about … your future. I think sometimes before people embark on the unknown they want to have some solid footing beneath them (like, what they will do when they come back, where will they live and with whom, etc.), and yet sometimes those things cannot be known until they journey forward into the next step. Sometimes transformation happens on the journey that shifts perspectives in our lives so that the questions we were asking before we left are no longer the questions we need to be asking in order to live our lives faithfully. Yes, we long for the answers, and we long for the understanding, because we think if we can just figure those things out then we’ll be better equipped to move ahead. For me these questions and desires for understanding can become like idols, because I get so fixated upon trying to figure out those answers I do not listen fully to other words that God may be speaking to me. Yet I hold on to those questions because it gives me the illusion of control. Of the many lessons that I believe God repeats in my life time and time again, one is that I need to surrender control of my future and my desires and my plans to God. It is great to have ideas. It is a good thing to think about the possibilities of how God could use our gifts and graces for the future and for the kingdom. Yet we need to allow God to bring about the future in our lives.

I want to say that I will pray for God to meet you in this next stage in Africa, and in so doing provide some clarity about your feelings towards your future. Yet what does that mean? God does not need to meet you there, because God is always with you. I hope that you will be able to recognize God’s presence in your life and love for you in new and fresh ways. And even as I pray that, I don’t know what that will look like. Will you hear an audible voice or see words written in clouds or feel something deep within your heart? Will you wake up one morning and see things differently than ever before as if a fog has faded and the sun is finally shining through? And if that happens, will it be indefinitely or will it be for a moment that goes after you brush your teeth? Does this mean that you will discern a clear directive about the next step (after Africa), or does it mean that you will have no more answers (and maybe even more questions) but accompanying them will be shalom? It is difficult not to interject preferences and expectations into prayers and just to allow God to answer as God needs and wants to answer so that we will be transformed for God’s work in this world. Maybe that is why I continue to return to the words, “May Thy will be done”… because inherent in those words is trust and surrender and an openness to the mystery that is God.

I’m going to venture that your thoughts around “Finding your way home” will not subside anytime soon – if ever – as you journey with God in this world. In fact, times of transition make us acutely aware of the questions of home – what is it? and where is it? and with whom is it? Sometimes those who have a sense of stability (real or imagined), or those for whom transition to the next step looks pretty much the same as the last step, do not spend time or energy thinking about this, because their life circumstances don’t demand that they think deeply about “home.”

Yet “home” is very much a question that God has wanted God’s people to deal with throughout time – we see this in scripture and we hear this in the stories of the lives of those who have journeyed in Christian faith for the past 2000 years. Often, those who are uprooted (either willingly or forcibly) wrestle with this question more than those who are not moving. Yet the movement helps the people press deeper into the questions of “home” that I mentioned above – what, where, with whom. It is good to have a physical location, yet if we locate our identity and our feelings and our purpose solely in a location or occupation, then we will struggle with “home” everywhere. However, if we locate our sense of “home” in a set of practices and faithful way of living that we can do regardless of location or circumstance, then we can find “home” anywhere.

Courtney and I wrestle frequently with what “home” means for us and what it will mean for our children. It is definitely not a physical location because we move often, yet that doesn’t mean that we don’t desire a place to hang photos and play with kids and make memories. We have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in a different place every year since we have been married. This is not bad, but it forces us to think about “family traditions” and “home” differently. What are some things that we can do for ourselves and our kids that do not depend on the physical location of the event? How do we navigate the family relationships and dynamics with our extended families knowing that we are continually in different places? We are well aware that this is the life we have chosen, and we wouldn’t do it differently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle for stability and traditional sense of “home” at times.

And you raise the another good issue – how can you live faithfully in your “home” setting (where you grew up) when to live there would seem to get you caught in “normal” life, by which I think you mean mundane, drab, and lacking full purpose – in short, not the abundant life which Christ has offered to us. Again, I will return to practices – those things which we do in our lives to cultivate our relationship with God. Or, better said, those things which we do in life that keep us open to the ways in which God is with us and at work in the world around us on a continual basis. It is a journey, a process, and a struggle, and I think that is what faith looks like. Growing up I think I tried to understand faith head-on. I had to understand the way it looked, felt, and acted – and I had to articulate that understanding. Now I think I see faith more as abstract art – you can give certain images and colors to produce certain feelings, and you can frame it in a way that attempts to provide perspectives to those feelings, yet you can’t understand or describe it precisely.

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