On Tuesday mornings, I volunteer at one of our local schools reading with first graders. I love doing it. Kids always make me smile.
Back in January, one little girl who is always pretty outspoken, was clearly frustrated. She explained that her teacher was making them write manuscripts and she said, “I don’t know why. I can never be an author.”
I told her she could be anything she set her mind to but she wasn’t buying it. I told her I could write books like the books we were reading and she laughed. “You’re not an author!” she said.
I have self-published some photography books for family and friends so, technically, I am an author but not in the distributed author sense. I was so determined to show her that being an author is not impossible that I found myself saying, “the next time I come read with you I will read a book I wrote.” She just laughed at me. Challenge accepted!
That left me needing to write and produce a children’s book and have it in hand the next time I came to read to the class. Thankfully, I had about 4 weeks to get it done between their school break and my being away for a conference and planning time.
Since the class always teases me about my aversion to cats, I knew my book had to be about dogs. I also knew that I wanted to convince my little friends that they can decide what they want to be in the future. So, “I’m Just a Dog” was born. Fortunately, a dog event was scheduled nearby during my time in Florida giving me plenty of subjects to photograph.
The class was pretty thrilled when I returned and read “I’m Just a Dog” for them because each of the dogs was named after one of the children in the class. The concept was simple, “Eva wants to be an artist but she can’t because she’s just a dog. But you can!”
That lead to wondering if perhaps I could find a traditional publisher for my children’s book and researching the publishing process. Several sources recommended approaching publishers with three projects demonstrating versatility. So, now I have three children’s books ready to go.
The publishing process, if I find someone, will take at least a year but if you simply cannot wait that long, each is available in a one-off printing service online that prints and ships book by book. (That makes them more expensive than they will be if they ever make it to the shelves of Barnes and Noble.)
It has been fun and, even if they never get published for real, my grandchildren will have some keepsakes from Grampa.
If you want to see, just click on the titles. That will allow you to see and read them online.
I’ve been doing some studying … mostly because I’m coming to the end of my six months of messages and teachings for the church I serve and am asking God what’s next. In the process I am looking in the mirror and seeing a change in myself that I do not like.
I’ve been at our little church revitalization work for just over five years now. When I started, I was just on the other side of the liver transplant journey that shook me to the core. It was a process that stripped me back to nothing.
When I started at this historic building on Main Street, I was in a place where I was vulnerable and absolutely awed by a God who I came to know more intimately than I ever before. I had been through difficult seasons in life. but I had never been totally broken and desperate. I always had some core strength or belief that I could do something, make some changes and pull myself through. The transplant journey offered none of that. Everything was entirely out of my control. All I had left was my faith and my people. And even some of “my people” distanced themselves from me because, like Job of the bible, I was too much to look at and too uncomfortable to be around.
When I started with this small group of people, all I wanted to do was worship and show others what I discovered. All I wanted to do was tear down barriers so that people could find the life-giving, always faithful, sustaining Jesus I had come to know so intimately. I remember times of singing songs in our gathered worship service and having to take a few minutes to compose myself before being able to speak. I went to worship. Not much else mattered.
Skip ahead to 2018. I am relatively healthy, just having the normal immunosuppressed challenges of catching most every virus and every bug going around. I am reestablished and financially secure in middle class Americana. I have appointments on my calendar, planning meetings to attend and even long-range goals. I remember not being confident enough to even plan things two months in advance because I didn’t know if I would be in the hospital or even alive. I am not desperate for God and the intimacy of suffering has faded. I’m operating on my own strength.
I have been studying why Americans go to church. I’ve been reading blogs, watching videos and studying church growth resources with their formulas for building attendance. I see things listed like:
attractive children’s spaces
quality coffee, welcome area
comfortable and inviting lobby areas
engaging stage design
practical, upbeat messages
parking lot greeters
I am being offered resources for attractive, targeted, direct mailings promising 1-2% response rate.
I just watched a young man make a very good and passionate plea for Christians attending church for the “right reasons.” It was all basically good stuff:
Because Jesus went to temple and the church is His Bride. He values it.
To contribute and serve.
To give your children a faith foundation.
Community – caring for each other and receive care.
Connections – personal and professional networking.
I’m reading a lot and watching a lot of presentations. There is no shortage of materials aimed at helping struggling churches attract people. That makes sense because the American church is not even keeping up with population growth. The American church is searching for the formula to fill the seats.
Worship, beyond a well-produced musical package, is missing. I am trying to discover when all-encompassing worship left the equation. When was it that gathering to simply worship God moved from the key reason for believers gathering to not even making the list?
I attended a large church service recently with a few hundred others and though the message was strong and the people welcoming, I was bothered. The band was tight and well-produced and the two large screens gave us the lyrics we needed.. We sang about how we can do anything in Christ, about how much God loves us, about our power in him and we sang about God’s “reckless” love pursuing us and chasing us down. I sang “boundless” because I can’t assign “reckless” to anything my God does. It was all good in reminding us of our position and standing in Jesus. But, I left feeling like I had worshipped myself rather than my God. Does that make any sense? It was all about me somehow … or, at least, that was my perception. The energy was great and the enthusiasm palpable. It was so good but I still felt like something was missing.
Worship is missing. Worshipping the living God for who he is, worshipping him for his character, his mercy, his love, his justice and his position is missing. It’s been missing in me.
I’ve been going to teach good Truths. I’ve been going to church worrying about who comes and if this person is happy or why that person doesn’t like me anymore. I’ve been going hoping that people will get something out of it and even hoping people find hope in Jesus. I’ve been hoping our children’s program grows and hoping we can see our music team add musicians in key spots. I’ve been putting presentations together and searching for memorable object lessons. But, I haven’t been going to worship.
When worship is my focus not many of the details matter. When worship is my focus I don’t tend to notice who came and who skipped and I don’t leave wondering if my message landed as a 9 or a 3. When worshipping God is my motivation, other things flow out of it naturally.
I want to stand up and say, “hey, if we’re here for something other than worshipping the living God, we’re here for the wrong reason” because that’s true of me. My God saved my life and preserved me not to revive a little church in Westbrook; that is not my primary purpose. He preserved me, saved my life so that I might worship him, give him all and then stand back and see what he brings out of that worship. This privilege I have to shepherd here in Westbrook is not about me at all, it’s an outflow of worshipping my God.
We’ve been fooled into thinking that our evaluations and our opinions are what matters more than anything else. We give our reviews and feedback immediately on Google or Yelp. Waitress too slow? 2Two stars. Meat overcooked a little? Two stars. Temperature in the theater just right and popcorn good? 4 stars. We really believe our personal opinions, preferences, likes and dislikes are the most important thing. We write our blogs, tweet our thoughts and compose our rants on social media fully believing that our “right to be heard” is tantamount.
And then, we bring that mindset into our churches where we evaluate everything, Children’s program? 1 star. Music, 3 stars. Coffee, 1 star. Decor, 1 star. Preaching, 3 stars. People, 4 stars. It goes on and on. It’s about us. It’s our job and responsibility as reviewers. We are the consumers.
I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s not unimportant to have quality programs. Cleaning is important and comfort is not a bad thing. But worship is to be our primary motivation.
I am not talking about ‘worship music,” if there is such a thing. I am not looking for a 4 star, tight, energetic, get-them-on-their-feet, great lights and sound, “worship experience.” What I long for is a total focus on being in the presence of God to worship him.
I’ve been blessed to worship singing along with a terrible guitar player trying her best. I’ve been blessed to experience powerful, authentic worship inside a large, hot, very uncomfortable big-top, tent. I’ve been moved worshipping with believers with no PA system and no electricity and I have worshipped in a setting with 5,000 others lead by a song-leader who became almost invisible, directing everything to God. I’ve been immersed in worship where the speaker was not polished or funny or energetic. In each circumstance nothing mattered except for gathering to worship the living God.
I’ve gone to our worship gathering for the past two weeks refocused on the immense privilege and mystery of joining with other believers, as the church, to simply worship. It has been good to get back to what matters. I haven’t worried about anything. In fact, I forgot my watch Sunday morning. I don’t know if I finished on time or started on time. But, I do know that I sang my prayers to my God through lyrics that focused on worshipping him. I know that I sang songs reminding me of my position in him as his child. I didn’t really notice much else. And I didn’t worry at all about the teaching time and who would like it or not like it. It was part of worship.
“Worship” is the word we use. But the Greek and Hebrew languages use a bunch of words to describe all the elements of worship: aboda, latreia, latreuo, latreia, leitourgia, proskyneo, shachac, gonu, gonupeteo, histahawa, shachac, proskyneo, homologia, thusia. Somehow we’ve reduced all of it into a 60-90 minute block of time that we attend when nothing better is pulling us away. For many people, it’s reduced even further into just the music portion of that 60-90 minutes. Somehow, worship is now about us and what it does for us. Did we sing songs I like? Was it the right length? Did it move me?
Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. ~ Lee Campbell, PhD
This relationship with God is so much bigger than a Sunday morning event. Worship is saturating, shaping and defining every day. Worship is not about me at all. Worship is my response to an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who holds everything and is worth everything.
Worship is response, praise, sacrifice, obedience, fear, service, adoration. Worship is confession, testimony, study, conforming and bowing. Worship is always.
Sunday mornings are just part of worship. Gatherings of believers is when the supernatural mystery of God’s pleasure, power and presence meld when two or more show up to focus all on him together. He indwells corporate worship for his glory and his purpose.
Worship is not about me at all. And that, in itself, has freed me from so much of the pressure I was carrying.
It’s been said that, “a donkey will sink in quicksand, but a mule won’t.”
First, why is quicksand not a big deal anymore? When I was a kid, quicksand was in lots of movies, shows and cartoons. I think it could have been one of the leading causes of death. Now, you never see quicksand.
And “the floor is lava” isn’t a thing anymore. Where did that go?
I did some research on quicksand this morning. I’m pretty sure I have Google confused by the variety of my searches. Ads for special quicksand shoes will probably start showing up now. I’m probably listed in a database of nutty people or future Jeopardy contestants. Maybe it’s just one list?
Apparently, things don’t get swallowed by quicksand. It’s something about the Archimedes Principle and FB = ρf Vf g. This Archimedes fella had known about this stuff 2400 years ago. Me? I know boats float but I am not sure why. I’m not sciency.
Anyway, quicksand is just suck mud that animals get stuck in and then die of dehydration and exhaustion trying to get out. You don’t sink unless you struggle.
Ok, I need to remember that. If I get stuck in quicksand it is best to just lay back and relax until I die of dehydration. Got it! No struggling for me.
Life is throwing a lot of suck mud at a bunch of my friends right now. There’s sickness suck mud, aging suck mud, financial suck mud, relationship suck mud, housing suck mud …
We’ve had our share of suck mud too but, right now, we’re just hiking through the forest in a mud-free time. I know there’s more suck mud ahead that we’ll hopefully avoid but it’s part of life in a broken, imperfect world.
The good thing is that we’re not making this hike alone. And, as much as we want to struggle and fight, we need to try our hardest to lay back, float, pray and wait for the rescue that is guaranteed.
“In this world, you will hit suck mud but, hang in there, I’m hiking with you.” It’s kinda what Jesus said in John 16:33. Our faith is the pole laid across the quicksand and we need to hold tight and wait for the puller to pull. I’m waiting for the puller, not dehydration.
We spent about a year hanging onto the pole of our faith across the pit until my transplant happened. But, our faith kept us hydrated and hopeful, for the most part. And then, after the operation, we spent months pulling in recovery from the surgery until we were free to continue our hike.
I don’t know if I’m more like a donkey or a mule. Sometimes I’m definitely more jackass than stubborn. Sometimes I lean toward the stubborn side more. The suck mud doesn’t differentiate. It has the same effect in both.
The key to survival is the pole across the pit. I’m thankful that our faith has been that pole in our lives.
“Ok Google, what is the best way to survive quicksand?”
“Relax. Quicksand usually isn’t more than a couple feet deep…”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus in John 16:33
Scott Linscott is husband, dad, grandfather, son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend and neighbor who received a living donor liver transplant in May of 2012.
My anxiety/PTSD is racing. I have no worries, apart from this being Day 10 of the latest antibiotic course fighting the most recent respiratory infection. My life is beyond anything I ever imagined.
So what’s the problem? Well, I did some catching up on some of my liver transplant friends from 2011-2013 this morning and it reminded me that I’m like a poster boy for successful transplant. But, why would that set me off?
Anxiety/PTSD makes no sense to me. I have come to know most of the possible hospital and medical triggers. I’ve been sent into panic attacks by beeping IVs, scrubs and even by a wall-mounted hand sanitizer station. I kind of understand those triggers now and start talking myself down walking up to the doors of any hospital/rehab facility.
But, I don’t understand why my heart is thumping this morning. All I did was check out Facebook pages of others who went through what we went through.
I’ve only had two mildly-significant scares in going on 7 years. Truthfully, “significant” is not even the right word. I’ve never even experienced true, confirmed rejection but only elevated numbers of “possible rejection” and just one biopsy to check. It was negative.
Going through transplant friends’ pages this morning I am seeing ongoing battles, regular infusions, ERCPs placing stents every few months, biopsies, CMV, and a host of complications. Seeing the pictures of people going in and out of hospitals has my heart racing even though it’s not my story at all.
I feel bad because I used to be very involved in support groups for people facing transplant. My hope was to be strong for them. I just couldn’t keep doing it because of all the triggers. Trying to be strong while sitting here counting backwards by threes and controlling my breathing was keeping me stuck.
Maybe I should have just sucked it up, faced my fears, and continued on. Did I just push it deeper in and make it worse? I really don’t know.
So, here I sit, Mr. Poster Boy, with too many amazing blessings to count, totally freaking out about things I’ve never had to face or experience. I am not even afraid I will experience them but still, my heart is racing.
PTSD/Anxiety makes no sense to me at all. So, I’ll just sit here deep breathing, going over God’s promises and giving thanks for my life and all the wonderful things that I have to be thankful for.
“The priority of Jesus’ solitude and silence is everywhere in the Gospels. It’s how he began his ministry. It’s how he made important decisions. It’s how he dealt with troubling emotions like grief. It’s how he dealt with the constant demands of his ministry and cared for his soul. It’s how he taught his disciples. It’s how he prepared for important ministry events. It’s how he prepared for his death on the cross.” – Bill Gaultiere
And yet I wonder why I’ve felt burned out, discouraged, out of balance and fatigued? It’s been almost a year since I’ve practiced the disciplines of silence and solitude.
There’s a pair of red-headed woodpeckers about 20 feet away from me, 5 mallard ducks floating by on a pond of glass, and a lone fisherman in a small boat casting into his mirror image. I can identify the calls of three early-morning birds and am straining to identify two unknown. A pair of loons is making its morning trip into the swampy cove to my right.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
That will be true with me or without me. How can it be that we get so busy doing God tasks that we lose touch with the Lover of our Souls Himself? How can we become so immersed that we actually lose all sense of presence?
Photographing an event is entirely different than experiencing an event. Doing God tasks is entirely different than sitting with God … alone … quiet … still.
Solitude and silence are the disciplines that deliver strength and drive. Similar to pulling into a gas station, similar to having the oil changed and similar to rotating the tires, it is solitude and silence that give me what I need to continue to answer the call of Christ. Solitude and silence are what He needed to complete the mission He was given.
Thomas Pond, Casco, Maine
A loon’s call is saying “amen” or “so be it” as my solitude is interrupted by neighboring cottages releasing their children, screen doors slamming behind them. They will want to greet my dog and ask a million questions.
But that’s okay. We were not called to unending solitude and silence. We were called to love our neighbors.
At least I am finally feeling recharged and motivated to answer that call. I’ve got an invite, or more of a challenge actually, to show off my rock skipping skills.
I’ll cry today. I know it. Some of my tears will be triggered by tears I see on the faces of people I love and others will come at my own sadness of a relationship suspended.
Relationship suspended. I’ve cried at goodbyes before – most of us have. When our best friend takes a job thousands of miles away, we hug and cry, even though our friend is moving to something better. Why? Because we know our relationship is put on pause.
The pain used to be much worse before video calling and group meeting apps came around. When a friend moved thousands of miles away, it used to mean contacts were reduced to toll-calls (calls used to cost more money the further apart the parties were), cards and letters. We knew it meant the closeness of our friendship would fade. We knew our relationship was largely paused until we could eventually reunite and pick up right where we left off regardless of how many years passed.
Today is our official good-bye for my mother. Today is the strange, ceremonial goodbye that we humans have been doing for thousands of years. We’ll all gather as family and friends, sing her favorite hymns and read the Scriptures she held dear, and share some memories. I said my goodbye more than two weeks ago and kissed her on her forehead, but today it will be official.
My baby shower.
We humans need closure. We hold funerals and say words to come to an ending and close the book. We eat little sandwiches and desserts made with love, we look at pictures, we tell stories and then we go home with the book supposedly closed.
Closed. In the past two weeks I have started to dial my mom’s number at least twice. I’ve thought, “I wonder how mom is doing today,” several times. I’ve stopped to snap a picture that I knew Mom would like to see more than once.
I doubt my book will close today. In fact, I know it won’t close. I’m kind of glad for that, even though it means tears of grief. I’m blessed to have these memories … so many memories.
I laugh at the memory of my mother smacking 11-year-old me over the head with a devil dog, cream-filled pastry at York Wild Animal Kingdom. I can see myself standing there with the cream filling melting down the side of my face. I had asked for a devil dog probably a thousand times since leaving our house in Auburn.
I smile at cold winter memories of painting projects on easels and hook-a-rug crafts in our little den. I turn the pages in my Bible and often think, “hey, Mom and I memorized this together.”
Memories of breakfast talks and life lessons from a woman who always had plenty to say no matter what the topic, will not fade.
I have so many memories of broken things that Mom figured out how to fix with tape, glue, bobby pins and duct tape. She had no YOUtube videos to show her what to do. She had Yankee ingenuity that refused to give up. She taught me to PUSH and look for solutions rather than just toss things aside.
Memories of her shushing Dad and I playing in church and memories of teasing her about her very bad singing voice. (She’d tell you the same!) Still, she’d make a joyful noise!
I have memories of me hiding her freshly-made coffee in the cupboard when she turned her back and memories of her swatting me playfully with a, “you’re no good, kid” when she finally found it. She said it to all three of us “no good, rotten kids” but we knew she didn’t believe that for a second. We knew family was her world.
And then, as years passed and time marched forward, I’ll hold onto memories of her first question whenever I’d call, “how are the kids” which then became “how are my babies” when great grandchildren arrived. Our talks always centered on family.
Today, we will officially close the book knowing that our relationship is suspended for awhile. We’ll say our formal goodbyes. But, my book won’t close. I know that at around 7:30 tonight, if my phone rings, I’ll expect it to be my mom calling, “I know you’re busy … fair to middling … how are my babies … this is a toll call so I’ll let you go…” and I’ll smile.
I’m going to keep my Mom book open. I’m going to let the tears come when they want and the laughs too. I had 55 years with an amazing, talented, creative, ingenius, loyal, outspoken, determined, loving, dedicated Mother encouraging me, shaping me, scolding me, coddling me and always supporting me. Why would I even consider closing that book?
Doe, Ray, Me, So, Fa … See, La, See, Doe!
Thank you, Mom. I see you everywhere I turn. You did a good job building a family, Mom. A very, very good job.
son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck.” Proverbs 6:20-21
It was Monday, April 16 and I was in Oratorio, Guatemala once again at one of my favorite places on Earth. I was with a team of about 20 people serving at the AMG Noah’s Ark Center. Some of the children were performing a dance at the front of the room while more than 100 others sat on the floor watching.
I noticed a little girl sitting in the middle of the sea of faces. She has sitting up on her knees to get a better view, clapping along and smiling. I snapped this picture when she looked my way. I’m not sure why she stood out to me but I kept seeing her little smile throughout the week.
The little ones that Robin and I sponsor, Tanya and Damaris, consumed most of our time and attention whenever we were with the larger group. Sponsored children want to get every possible second with their “godparents” who visit. Of course, very few ever manage to make a visit so it is very, very special when some do. Every sponsored child lives vicariously through us wondering, “is my godmother like you?” Is my godfather like you?”
On Wednesday, after two days of playing games, singing songs, making crafts and reading bible stories with the children and visiting many of their homes, our team asked if we could meet children who were waiting for sponsors. It was chaotic and confusing. My job was to snap a picture of one child after another as they came through the line. It was rapid fire. I moved quickly and efficiently until this little smile moved into my lens. I learned that her name is Karla. Again, I’m not sure why she stood out to me.
9 of the 21 children were quickly sponsored by our team members. But, Robin and I already have two children we sponsor, so we were not planning to add another. After printing out the photos on my portable printer and handing team members their children, I was left with 12 still waiting. Among them was Karla’s face. It was Thursday, our last day with the younger children. I knew God had a plan for Karla that involved us.
When we returned to the United States, my mother, who has been very forgetful over the last few years brought up the subject of sponsoring a child. She had been asking me for details since our first trip in 2016 and I never followed through. This time I had Karla’s picture with me and took it out to show her. She seemed genuinely excited.
It took the month of May to get Mom all set up sponsoring Karla. My plan was to help her write letters and we talked about what she could buy at the dollar store to send on my next trip, But then, June 2, a nurse at the Veteran’s Home where she was rehabbing from shoulder surgery found her unresponsive. We later learned it was a massive stroke. Mom passed away on June 7.
There was no question that we would add Karla to our AMG family and think of Mom whenever we write to her or see her. But my sisters and I knew that Mom would have wanted to do something for her little girl, something significant. But, what?
I contacted the director at the AMG School in Oratorio thinking that perhaps a year’s worth of Mom’s sponsorship would be able to provide a brick wood stove with chimney pipe for the family. Many families cook inside, over open fires and have numerous issues with eyes and lungs from all the smoke. But there was a greater need in Karla’s home.
He explained that their house had dirt floors that turned to mud in the rainy season because of holes in the walls. They needed some major cement work and the services of a mason to patch the holes and make a cement pad instead of a dirt floor. I gladly added some to my Mom’s gift to make this a reality in her memory.
Yesterday I received before and after photos. Mom would have been so pleased to see what she did for Karla and her family. The director tells me that the parents are overwhelmed with appreciation and so very thankful.
I’m thankful too.
Hard-packed dirt floors
Barrel for corn hangs from ceiling
No more mud in the rainy season!
Look at that smile!
To make a lasting difference in the life of a child, visit https://goo.gl/hbVh3g and become a sponsor.