Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 10 (That Navy Spirit)

One of the bravest men I've ever met is retired Navy Lt. Cmdr  Ralph Gaither. As a young US Navy pilot, Gaither was shot down over Vietnam and spent more than 7 years as a prisoner of war in what became known as the "Hanoi Hilton." He wrote a book about that nightmare. It is entitled, "With God in a POW Camp." If you ever have the opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this book, do it.

On Day 10 of my Chapel-A-Day Lenten blog series,* I thought about my friend Ralph as I sat in the All Faiths Chapel aboard NAS Pensacola.  I thought about the many men and women who have served on this base through the years...who sat in these pews, looking to the ultimate Commander in Chief for their guidance, direction and strength. As someone who is unabashedly patriotic, I gave thanks to God for their service and for their dedication to our country, the United States of America. 

I sat in the front pew, and slowly took in every aspect of the chapel---the baptismal font, the altar, the cross, the beautiful stained-glass depiction of Jesus---the American and Navy flags...

...and the eagle.

Ya' know.. it's not every day that you find a statue of an eagle in a chapel. But, as the national emblem (since 1782), and in a chapel on a base where flying is as much a part of life as breathing... it seems appropriate.

I began to look up scriptures about eagles. One of the most-quoted comes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint."

I thought about LCDR Gaither. As a Navy pilot, he'd flown higher than any eagle has ever flown. But, when he was shot out of the sky... on a heroic mission that earned him the Silver Star, The Legion of Merit and The Flying Cross Awards (among others)...he had to wait. 

For a very long time. 

As he told me, there was only one Source that renewed his strength---and helped him walk and not faint.

Today's chapel time reminded me that we should cherish the wonderful days when we are strong and bold and soaring high above the troubles of the world! And, on those days, we should give thanks to the One who helps us spread our wings and fly!

Today's chapel time also reminded me that on those days when we are shot out of the sky---there is a promise. A promise for renewed strength and a better tomorrow!

*During the season of Lent, I have decided to spend an hour a day in a chapel or church sanctuary in a quest for spiritual growth. If you'd like to read more about that, you can begin with the first blog in the series here:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 9 (Running on Empty)

Pushing the speed limit on the interstate as I raced to yet another appointment, I was caught off guard one hot summer day last year when my car sputtered and hesitated. I pushed the gas pedal harder. The car sputtered, hesitated...and died. Just like that. I looked at the fuel gauge.  You guessed it. Empty.

Suddenly, I was going nowhere fast.

Day 9 of this Lenten Chapel A Day blog series finds me considering my fuel tank. Not the one that propels my car... the one that keeps me going day in and day out--emotionally, physically and spiritually.

I recently heard a minister's take on what he called our high RPM from here to there, one appointment, errand or responsibility to the next. Too often, he said, we don't realize that our inner tank is getting dangerously close to empty. 

I am teetering toward the "E" in my fuel tank as I find myself on Day 9 is the sanctuary of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. It's a beautiful building. It is peaceful and quiet, much like the community in which is sits. It is the perfect place to sit quietly on the back pew with my Bible, devotional and notepad. It is the perfect place to consider how best to refuel my inner tank so I can get back on Life's road.

You may think that I'm about to tell you that the hour of time spent praying, reading... and listening.. left me feeling filled up and ready to race back onto Life's highway, screaming "Look out, world, here I come again!"

It didn't.

In fact, today's chapel time made me realize that I need to consider moving a little more slowly through each day. I need to move with more focus, more purpose and more dependence on God's fuel instead of my own. I can make out a daily schedule-- that's a good thing! But, it needs to be a schedule filtered through what He wants to get done that day--- not me. And, it needs to be done on His time, not mine. And, it needs to be accomplished with His strength (fuel) not mine.

There are a lot of places I could have gone for a fill-up today. I could have looked out around me: to other people, to activities, to food or drink. But, instead, as part of my Lenten journey of discipline, I purposed to look not OUT... but UP. 

Because when it comes to my spiritual fuel tank--- I never want to find myself going nowhere fast.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Chapel A Day-Day 8 (Blessings)

The last place you might expect to find a blessing is in a hospital. A hospital, after all, is a place of sickness, stress and sadness. If you find the right room in the hospital, though, it can also be a place of healing, hope and happiness.

At Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida, that room is the chapel. 2nd floor--look to the left as you exit the elevator. 

I've sat in this particular chapel many times. I've studied, listened and prayed. 

Over a span of many days some months ago, I prayed a plethora of prayers in this room for my friends' premature babies. The preemies each weighed under two pounds...and every day that they held on was a blessing.

Also in this chapel, I have prayed for my own grown children, my friends, my family, my world. I've even prayed for myself. 

Yes... it's okay to pray for yourself. David did. Jacob did. Jesus did.

Day 8, though, was a day to sit quietly and offer prayers of thanks for blessings and answers to prayers. FOR AN ENTIRE HOUR, DREXEL? Mmmmm, yes. Was it easy? Mmmmmm..... no. If you are like me, you probably find it easier to sit and pray about the problems and concerns and worries of life than it is to recall, and give thanks for, the blessings. Years ago, a very wise woman advised me to begin keeping a journal of my prayer requests...AND my blessings. She said that for every petition I put before God, I should offer a prayer of gratitude as well. I'd like to tell you that I do that every day.

I don't.

But, during this 40 day journey into Lent, I am trying to get better about that. And, so today, I want to share with you that this little chapel-- in a place filled with much sickness and pain-- has yielded answers to prayers that have become blessings not only to me, but to many others as well. Answers to prayers for my children, my friends, my family, my world.. even prayers for myself. They are too numerous to actually name, with the exception of one-- 

Meet Madeleine and Sloan.

Courtesy: Devin and Tiffany McInnis

These are the precious babies born so early to my friends Devin and Tiffany McInnis. Madeleine spent 120 days in the Sacred Heart NICU. Her brother, Sloan, was there 150 days. But guess what?  They are home! They are precious! They are growing! They are still facing many challenges and I still pray for them. But, along with their parents, and indeed their entire strong and faithful family, these babies have become a wonderful inspiration to so many of us. 

When I look at their pictures and hear the updates on how far they've come, 
Courtesy: Devin and Tiffany McInnis

and as I sit in this now-familiar hospital chapel, I give thanks. 

I give thanks for many things, not the least of which is the blessing that comes from spending reflective time--- in a room ---in a hospital.

Sacred Heart Hospital-- 2nd floor--look to the left as you exit the elevator.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 7 (Do You Hear What I Hear?)

Have you ever been brought to tears by something so grand you could hardly catch your breath? Perhaps it was a sunset, the birth of your child, standing at the base of a mountain that reached to the skies or at a ridge overlooking the Grand Canyon, or standing on the deck of a boat looking out at a vividly blue sea with no land in sight.. just the beauty, and the stillness, of the water. 
©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.

Maybe it was the time you flew above the clouds... seeming to almost touch Heaven as you traveled by air from here to there.  

The grandness of life has a way of catching us off guard.

So does the simplicity.

Day 7 of A Chapel A Day found me spending my hour of time inside the grandness of First United Methodist Church in Pensacola, FL. This historic church is regal, beautiful and filled with an air of reverence. I was there for a special Wednesday night Lenten service.

Courtesy: FUMC Pensacola
We sang the hymns that night to the accompaniment of the church's pipe organ. It was beautiful. According to the church's website, the organ weighs 50,000 pounds and has "4,153 pipes all strategically voiced for Pensacola First United Methodist Church." Now that's GRAND! Frequently, the grandeur of the beautiful music puts a lump in my throat. 

But, on Day 7---it wasn't the magnificence of the pipe organ that stirred me. 

It was this.

Minister of Music Rev. Rick Branch (he's also the organist) played "Jesus Loves Me" on the handbells... with a soft piano accompaniment. 


One note at a time.  No fanfare. No great mountain, or high clouds, or deep,wide sea. Just pure, simple, beautiful notes.  

I was entranced. I sat in my pew without moving. Before I knew it, small tears were spilling out of my eyes. The simple beauty had caught me off guard. 

In 1 Kings 19, we are told that Elijah stood on a mountain waiting for the Lord. As he waited, a strong wind came by followed by an earthquake and then a fire. But the Lord was not in any of those grand events. Instead, we are told that after the big, and no doubt noisy, moments... the Lord came to Elijah in a still...small... voice.

Day 7's chapel time challenged me to be ready for the small moments.. as well as the big ones. I'm challenged to balance listening to the grand and beautiful sounds around me with sitting still and listening to---the sounds of silence.

Because when the important moments come--no matter how simple, still and seemingly small---  I don't want to be caught off guard.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 6 (Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign)

Day 5's blog meandered into the open-air chapel--- a spot by a lake. 

First UMC Pensacola
©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
On Day 6, my Chapel-A-Day journey takes me back inside to a more traditional setting--- to the oldest Protestant church in Pensacola and the oldest Methodist church in the state of Florida. It is a beautiful church and I want to tell you more, and show you more, about it in days to come. But, not today.

Today, an hour spent in this church reminds me of another beautiful church I visited just a few days ago. First UMC in Fort Walton Beach, Florida is led by my dear friend and former pastor, Rev. Mike Sigler. I made the drive on Sunday to hear him preach and to visit with Mike and his amazing wife, Vicki. Just being in the same room with them is encouraging, uplifting, and healing,. 

Mike talked about u-turns in his sermon that day. His message reminded us that when we find ourselves heading down a wrong path, it's important to stop--repent--turn around and get back on the right track. (Sorry, Mike. You said so much more than that.. and said it so much more eloquently than that-- but I only have so much word-space in this blog! :) )

Since Sunday, I've been trying to pay attention to the signs in my life---not just the U-turns. Sometimes the signs are easily spotted. They tell me to "Yield" "Slow Down" or even "Stop." When I see these signs, and I pay attention, I usually stay out of trouble.

Sometimes, the signs are harder to see. They may be hidden by the overgrowth on the side of Life's road. They may be faded by my fatigue, aggravation, or discouragement. I may just turn a blind-eye to them deliberately, because I don't like what the sign is telling me.

But, they are there. 

And,they are placed at exactly the right spots on the road map of my life, by the One who is doing His best to keep me focused, disciplined and traveling in the right direction.

So, in today's chapel time, I prayed for eyes to see the signs, wisdom to pay attention to them, and courage to follow their lead--- even if they take me up a road that's unknown and uncertain.

As I drove away from the church, thinking about the twists and turns life has taken recently, I looked up and saw something that --if I'm lyin', I'm dyin'--looked just like this:

  I think it's a Sign.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 5 (A View By The Lake)

First UMC Fort Walton Beach.  FL
Photo: ©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
I love sitting in a church, chapel, or cathedral. I love admiring the architecture, whether simple or elaborate. I love the kneeling benches, altars and pipe organs. I love the stained-glass windows, the candles, and all of the traditions and rituals that are a part of that particular building. 

But, I understand that God is not limited to the walls that make up those buildings. 

And, so sometimes my 'chapel' is found in a place like this.

Photo: © Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
Day 5 of my 40 day journey into Lent found me opting out of a bricks & sticks chapel, and headed to this open-air chapel of my own making. This is a quiet little lake I happened upon some time ago in a rural area of Northwest Florida. It's become a favorite spot of mine. It is a peaceful, beautiful, and a vivid reminder that "In the beginning, God created..."

Day 5's  hour of time challenged me to examine what it is that I have created.. and am creating... that will have lasting value after my time on Earth is done. For years, I wrote daily news stories for the morning and evening newscasts. I venture to say that only a fraction of those stories are still remembered by anyone today--including me!  (Except for the bloopers. Trust me. They last forever.) The houses I decorated, meals I cooked, errands I ran--while all important at the time-- are by and large part of the past. They came, they went, they are forgotten.

I pray that what will last into the future are the seeds of compassion, love, family, integrity, ethics, responsibility and hard work that I have sown in my beautiful children. I pray that at least some of what God has given me to say in speeches, books, and even this blog will touch a life here and there and cause something to take place in that person that will impact the future--either theirs or someone else's. I pray that I will become more selective in the way I spend my time and will be more desiring to spend that time creating something good--- something lasting---something that will touch others in a positive way, well into the future.

Why don't you join me? We will probably have to go outside the walls we are used to--whether they are walls we've constructed, or those that others have put around us. But, guess what? It could be that-- 'outside the walls' is where the creative process begins.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Chapel A Day-Day 4 (Family, Faith and Food!)

Saturday was a beautiful day... in more ways than one. The sun was shining and this is the view that greeted me when I awoke.

Trust me.. it's not my view. It is borrowed from my cousins who've made much smarter real estate choices than I have made! 

Saturday was also beautiful because of my cousins---the ones who have this view-- and two more who were visiting from Texas. We hung out Friday night and all day Saturday. We talked and laughed and ate-- then we talked and laughed and ate some more... then we went to lunch! It was late in the day on Saturday when I remembered my Lenten promise-- to carve out an hour a day to sit quietly in a chapel-- feeding NOT my face.. but my spirit! 


I didn't want to leave them! We were having so much fun that breaking away was hard! But one of my cousins (Julie-you're my heart!) is keenly aware of my 40 day commitment... and I wanted to be accountable to her. We began searching for nearby chapels or churches that might be open on a Saturday afternoon. Turns out there was a Catholic church just up the road that had a 5:00 Mass scheduled. 

Even though it was just a bit after 3:00, this Methodist girl decided to drive over and go visitin'. I went inside and took a spot in the back. It was quiet. The sun was streaming through the stain glass window above the altar. It was beautiful.

I wish I could tell you that something miraculous happened... or that I had an 'ah-ha' moment, as I did yesterday (see Day 3) or that I received divine inspiration, communication or direction.

I. Did. Not.

But, I sat there for the hour. I prayed, meditated and read devotional scriptures. When the hour was up, I left. I felt peaceful and happy-- but nothing more than normal. 

And, that's ok.

Not every visit to church--or every quiet time spent in devotional readings-- or every Sunday School class has to be a mountaintop experience. Don't be discouraged if you leave from those places feeling--well-- just  'normal.' Those people we read about in the Bible-- they had LOTS of normal days. But, the ones who understood the importance of discipline-- discipline in study, prayer, and the time apart-- were the ones who were most prepared for the BIG moments when they finally came!

I went back to my cousins' house feeling so happy that I'd been given this time with them. Happy that I can have' normal' moments with family, fellowship and yes, FOOD! Happy to know that until the BIG moments come... 'normal' is a gift. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 3 (Wait-- Now Why Am I Here?)

I knew exactly which chapel I wanted to explore on Friday... day 3 of my Lenten journey; I'd driven by it several times over the past few years, and each time I felt drawn to the quaint, timeless charm of the historic building.

Standing in front of  St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Milton. FL near sunset, I felt transported back in time. I could vividly imagine the scene of parishioners arriving on a Sunday morning back in 1877, when the church was founded. I thought of all the families who have called this church 'home.' I imagined the baptisms, church picnics, weddings.. and funerals that have taken place here over the past 100+ years. A historic building... alive with  the history of faith, family and fellowship.

I was eager to go inside, but as I realized the church was closed, I felt disappointment set in. My instincts are typically spot-on and I really felt that this was the chapel I was supposed to visit today. 

So... what now?

I spied a white picket fence running along the side of the building. I decided to follow it. It led me here.

Photo: St. Mary's Episcopal Churc
The gate was open, so I walked inside and looked around. I made my way to a bench near the back of the garden and sat down. Still uncertain of why I was here, I decided to just sit, watch, and listen. 

My view was of the back of the church. And, while the Carpenter Gothic architectural style was captivating... and the surroundings peaceful.. I still just wasn't gettin' it. Why was I here?

Don't laugh. I actually closed my eyes, and said out loud,  "Why am I here?"

I waited. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Then, I opened my eyes, and saw something I hadn't noticed before.
In the middle of this winter-weary garden, which was filled with the bare trees and dry leaves and brittle sticks of the season, a small burst of color was springing up!

And all of a sudden... I got it.

Many of us are winter-weary... not just in the season, but in our minds, bodies and spirits. Some of us feel dry, brittle, even dead. Responsibilities, disappointments, and the "stuff" of life have us eager for the arrival of a new season- the season of spring.

Hold on. It's coming. 

Isaiah 43:19 "See I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and springs in the wasteland!"  

You see, just as the end of winter comes with the arrival of spring- the end of the Lenten season comes with the arrival of Easter. New life, new promises, new hope! It's hard to remember that sometimes--as we are spending our days trudging through  life's winter garden-- especially when all we can see are the bare trees, dry leaves and brittle sticks. But just for today, try to look past the grayness of the season. Look for the spots of color that are springing up! They are there!  

Right where they are supposed to be.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 2 (What the Doctor Ordered)

Many years ago, I had the very strong urge to spend a few minutes every day in a quiet time of spiritual reflection. I decided that my church sanctuary was the perfect spiritual getaway. 


Except that it was locked during the day, due to financial, security, and other practical concerns. It was locked. And, I did not have a key.  A woman in church administration offered an alternative.

"Have you considered a hospital?"

"Ummmm. No. I don't need CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation.). I need SPR. (Spiritually Passionate Resuscitation.)"

"Seriously!" she went on. "Hospitals have chapels and they are open 24/7."

 I ain't gonna lie.

I was not a happy Christian. I did not want to drive to some hospital and make my way through that a crowded parking lot and into a medical maze to find myself stuck in a 9x9 room with a neon "CHAPEL" sign on the door. I wanted my familiar sanctuary. Wahhhh!!

I got over it, and tried her suggestion. Turns out, it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Hospital chapels are some of the most peaceful, inspiring, spiritual places of reflection and worship that I've visited. There's one in just about every town. And, she was right. They are open 24/7.

I've spent time in chapels of Protestant hospitals, Catholic hospitals and secular hospitals. Some are elegant with pews, altars and candlelight.. Others are little more than a closet with a cross and a bench. All are filled with a Spirit that settles and strengthens.

Today, my chapel-a-day visit came at the end of a very long day. It was a good day... but a day that left me drained. This chapel is at West Florida Hospital in Pensacola, FL. It was on my way home. It is small, plain.. and exactly what I needed. You see, God doesn't require incense, candlelight and a pipe organ to show up. If we are there.. He is there.

Next time you need a little SPR.. or just a little TLC... consider the hospital chapel. It could be just what the Great Physician ordered.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Chapel A Day- Day 1 (What Was I Thinking?)

"An hour, Drexel? Really? 60 whole minutes? What were you thinking?"

Those were the words rumbling through my mind tonight on day one of my 40 day journey into Lent. If you read my entry yesterday, you know I have decided to participate in the tradition of Lent by spending one hour a day,every day,  for the 40 days of Lent, in a chapel--- reading, praying, studying, listening. 

One hour. A day. Every day. Really?  What WAS I thinking?

The chapel today was the sanctuary at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola. The hour was spent in the traditional Ash Wednesday service, where I read, prayed, studied... and listened. But not before having a contentious conversation with myself (silently and in my mind) about this whole 'hour' thing.

I began by making a mental list of all the important chores, activities, meetings, work assignments, fun times with friends,  etc. that could easily fill up that hour. Add up that hour from each day for 40 whole days, and I would lose 40 hours of time over the next 6 weeks! 40 hours! "Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do," I thought.  I snatched up my bulletin and began to crankily scan the music, scriptures and sermon topic for the service. 

Funny how God has a way of getting right to the point. The first hymn contained these words:

"We are... proud, impatient, loving over-much our things..." Oh..wait. You mean "things" like---chores, activities, meetings, work assignments, fun times with friends, etc?  I kinda' squirmed. 

Oh, it gets better.

The first scripture reading was from the Old Testament book of Joel... Chapter 2 verse 12: "Return to Me with ALL your heart." (capitalization mine.) ALL my heart. Even... perhaps especially... that daily hour's worth of my heart? I squirmed a little bit more.

The second scripture reading was Psalm 51. Verse 10 jumped, no LEAPED, out at me : "Renew a steadfast spirit within me." Steadfast. Steadfast. Now, what exactly does that mean? Oh, right- - "firm in purpose, resolution and faith." Purpose. Resolution. Faith. The words "easy" and "convenient" are NOT included in the definition.

And finally, from the sermon, taken from Matthew 6: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

I stopped breathing for a few seconds, but my heart thudded loudly in my chest. 

My treasure. My treasure. My treasure. Where, and what,  was my treasure? At this moment, it appeared my treasure was my time. Did you catch that? MY time... not His. And, it was linked to MY endeavors. Not His. Hello. Message received and understood.

By this time I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this sanctuary was exactly the 'chapel' I was supposed to be in today. I knew that I was supposed to hear, and to sing, the words that I'd heard and sung in this service. And, I knew that this out-of-kilter placement of priorities is exactly the reason that I have been moved to spend an hour a day in reflective solitude----shutting out the world, the chores, the meetings, the work, the activities and the friends.

So, I'm ready for tomorrow's quiet time. All 60 minutes of it. I do not know where my "Chapel-A-Day" journey will lead me, or what it will teach me. But, I'll be ready. 

Cross my heart.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Chapel A Day--My 40 Day Journey Into Lent

  At midnight, one of the most important seasons of the year for me will begin. It is the season of Lent. Interestingly enough, I did not grow up in a denomination that observes the tradition of Lent. But, when I was in my forties I became curious about why certain faiths practice this time of sacrifice, fasting and penitence. My research led me to the clear conclusion that these few weeks may potentially lead a person into a deeper walk of faith, a healthier lifestyle (physically and spiritually) and stronger relationships with both God and man. I wanted all of those, and so I began searching for a meaningful way to experience the Lenten season.

 up" sweets, caffeine and fast food for the sake of giving something up rang hollow. I studied, thought and prayed and decided that for me, Lent is less about giving UP, than it is about giving TO... by doing something positive to move closer to God and to a more faithful way of living out each day. While I may indeed decide to give up something for Lent, the space that is left by sacrificing something material is then filled with something spiritual. One year, I fasted an hour of sleep each day, and got up early for a time of spiritual quiet time. That 40 day 'fast' led to an early morning habit that continues to this day.

     This year, I have decided to spend one hour of every weekday during Lent sitting quietly in a chapel. I may read, I may pray, I may study, I may listen. But, I am going to seek out a Chapel-A-Day and "be still and know."

     My goal is to visit a different chapel each day. It may be the chapel of a local church... or hospital. It may be the small sanctuary of a country church, or the chancel of a grand cathedral. I hope to share with you what I learn about these houses of worship. I hope I learn something about myself, my God and my faith that is worth passing along, as well. I hope you will read the Chapel-A-Day blog entries, and share them with your friends. 

    If you are looking for a way to make the Lenten season a meaningful time in your life,  here are a few suggestions, based on an entry from a few years back in the devotional Upper Room.  I regret that I can't find the author's name. 

·         Electronic Fast. Replace TV shows, Facebook, Twitter, etc. with prayer and/or devotional study.

·         Start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, hear an ambulance, or check your e-mail. Before you text someone, pray for them.

·         Pray for others you see as you walk to and from classes, or drive to and from work. (You don't have to know them. You just have to see them and pray for them.
·         Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it

·         Read one chapter in the Bible each day.

·         Give up soft drinks or fast food and give the money you save to someone in crisis.

·         Create a daily quiet time. Spend thirty minutes a day in prayer.

·         Cultivate a life of gratitude. Start by writing at least one person a thank you note  each week.

·         Be kind to someone each day.

·         Volunteer 1 hour, or more, a week.

I'm turning in early. I have an appointment with a chapel tomorrow... and I am going to need an early start.