Friday, March 29, 2013

What's in YOUR hands?

My current stack. Some are perpetual.
As you see by the spines, I read 'em out!
Love this line I just read: "Put the right book in the right hands and you can change the world."

What book is in YOUR hands today?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 36 (I Went To Jail Today)

I went to jail today.

Wait---don't get carried away. I was there to do something good! I am in the beginning stages of working with a program that is designed to encourage inmates to turn their lives around.

Let me tell you something... it ain't fun hearing those steel doors close and lock behind you. Even when you know you are going to be able to leave whenever you want.

I've had the opportunity to meet some inmates . Most of the ones I've met are quiet and friendly. None have said, "I don't belong here." All the ones I've met have said to me, "I messed up." 

"Guess what?" I want to tell them. "So have I." Not in the way that these inmates have messed up. But,  I've messed up on the job. I've messed up at home. I've messed up in relationships.

In today's chapel moment--- yes, even in a jail you can find a chapel moment---I find that I am so grateful that my Christian faith teaches me that a mess-up doesn't have to last forever. I'm glad that my faith teaches forgiveness and grace. I'm glad that my faith causes me to know that our tomorrows can be so much better than our yesterdays. I'm glad that my faith tells me that if we truly want to change, we can. And, I'm glad that my faith tells me that we don't have to go it alone.

As we draw close to the end of Lent, I appreciate more and more that---Easter's comin'---with its promise of new life. I hope these inmates I've met--and indeed all of us--- will be encouraged to acknowledge and resolve the past--- but to look toward a better future. 

A future where the doors open in front of us--- instead of lock behind us.

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

It's cold, but it's officially spring and the GATORS are beginning to wake up! 
I thought a repeat of this fun photo essay that I shot and edited for a class last spring was worth another run! 

The place is Alligator Alley just off Highway 59 in Summerdale, Alabama. If you're in the neighborhood, you should check them out!

Click the link below to go to the youtube video!  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 20 (Seeing God)

On this day, I found myself halfway through the 40 days of Lent. I realized that visiting a different chapel each day--for  40 days--was harder than I had anticipated. That's mostly because few churches are open during the weekdays. So, I do what any former TV news anchor becomes adept at doing... I ad lib. In this case, I revisit chapels and sanctuaries that are special to me..

One of my favorites is this one- the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in downtown Pensacola. Its beauty, its peaceful atmosphere and its history put within my spirit a sense of calm. I truly feel God's presence when I enter this sanctuary. It doesn't matter if it is packed to the balcony with worshipers on a Sunday morning, or if I am the only one here.

God is here, too.

The Lenten season causes us to recall the 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness...going without food and water...without any human companionship.... being tempted... and tried.

In this mid-point of Lent, I find myself crossing paths with a lot of people who are in that wilderness season of their own life. It's not a happy place, frankly. They describe it with words like: dry, sad, hurtful and lonely.

I've used words for my living more than  half of my life. But, I've been having trouble coming up with words to say in these conversations. So, I turned to the Source for words. What I found gave me renewed hope halfway through this wilderness season. Perhaps they will give you hope, too. You see, while the wilderness can be a lonely, scary place, it can also be the very place where (like the sanctuary at FUMC for me) God comes to meet you. It's happened before.

When she was hurting the most, Hagar saw God in the wilderness. (Gen.16 & 21)
When he was afraid, Jacob saw God in the wilderness. (Gen. 32)
When he was confused and separated from his family, Moses saw God in the wilderness. (Gen. 3)
When he was on a lonely mission, John the Baptist saw God in the wilderness. (Matt 1 & Mark 1)

Is it possible that sometimes... not all the time... but sometimes, we have to be in the stillness of the wilderness to see God? I don't know. I wish I did. Maybe someday I will know the answer to that... maybe we all will.

In the meantime, I take comfort in the last verse about 'the tempation' as recorded in Matthew. Chapter 4, verse 11. When the wilderness experience was over, "angels came and ministered to him."

I'm no angel.. anyone who knows me will tell you that! But, I do hope that some of what I write may 'minister' to you if you are in a wilderness season. Just remember...when you least expect it, God may show up. How cool is that? And also remember that this season is not meant to last forever.

Easter's comin.'

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 19 (Don't Get Your Drawers in an Uproar!)

"Don't get your drawers in an uproar!" 

Mama Hodie circa 1964
I think that's the closest I ever got to hearing my grandmother use salty language. Those seven little words were usually uttered when I was "having a spell" (another one of her favorite sayings) when something wasn't going my way. Mama Hodie had a way of keeping it real, even way back then.

I thought about her during today's chapel visit. The chapel is just a tiny room in Santa Rosa Medical Center in Milton, FL. It's the kind of room where Mama Hodie would be comfortable.. a small chapel in a small hospital, in a small town where people speak plainly and keep it real.

I also thought about Mama Hodie earlier this morning, when I was going through my drawers... ummmm., that's my DRESSER drawers, thank you. They were in a bit of an uproar. About once a week, I go through these drawers---straightening, folding and de-cluttering. Each time, I vow that THIS week.. .the drawers will stay in order!  But, bit by bit, I find myself shoving a rumpled and wrinkled t-shirt into this drawer; stuffing unfolded socks into that drawer; and tossing pajama tops in and out of the other drawer. And, by the end of the week.. drawers are in an uproar.

As I sat in the chapel, thinking of Mama Hodie's comment, it occurred to me that it's just that simple for life to get in an uproar. Bit by bit. A little shove here, a little stuff there, a little toss in the other place.. and before we know it... is in an uproar.

The good news is that it doesn't have to stay that way. We can yank the drawers of our life open and begin straightening, folding and de-cluttering. 

For me, that means straightening my life by getting my priorities in line with HIS priorities. First things first. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." Matthew 6:33. As I recently read in the devotional book "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young:

 "When MY Presence is your focal point, the pieces of your life will fall into place."

Then, the folding process is simply my means of getting organized. I do it with prayer, study, list making and calendar-accountability. For me, this formula for order leads to more peace in life.. and we can all use more of that, right?

Pray... study... write it down.. keep commitments

The de-cluttering part is a little tougher. Like those comfortable...but filled with holes... socks in my sock drawer, all of us have "stuff" in life that we have trouble releasing. But, we can try.This Lenten season I am trying to let go of the little things that keep me busy but unproductive; with matters that consume my energy without feeding my spirit; and with.situations over which I have no control. Like those socks, they may be familiar and feel weirdly comfortable.. but they don't belong in the drawer. In Luke 10:38-42, we are reminded that 

"few things are needed." 

Like the ones in my dresser, the drawers in my life won't stay clean forever. They will become messy, jumbled and cluttered again.  I'll have to stop what I'm doing and straighten them. But, after today's chapel time, one of my new goals during this Lenten season is to avoid getting my drawers in an uproar!

Mama Hodie would be proud.
Drexel and Mama Hodie 1981

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 18 (Lighting Up)

I'd visited the chapel before during this Lenten journey. The name and location of the chapel weren't important this day, though. And, it's not important to this blog entry. What's important is what I found in this chapel. 

I found light. 

Sometimes, it's hard to see the light. Sometimes, the cares of life seem strong and dark and scary. You may wonder... "where has the light gone?"
So, you search for it. You look for the light in your friends. You look for the light in activities. You look for the light in your family. You look for the light in your job. You look for the light in your bank account. You look for the light in the mirror. 

But, you can't find it.

For many years, I attended Christmas Eve services at my home church, Providence UMC in Spanish Fort, AL. At the conclusion of the service, the sanctuary was thrown into total darkness. Then... the pastor, Rev. Bob Sweet, would light a candle. The tiny flame of light would spring to life in the blackness. Two ushers would come forward and light their candle off of his. Then, they moved down the center aisle, lighting the candle of the person on the outside, who would turn to the person next to him/her and do the same. 
As we sang "Silent Night, Holy Night," the sanctuary would begin to fill with a strengthening, wonderful, holy light. By the last verse, the sanctuary was aglow in a beautiful light that took your breath away.

And, it all started with one little flame.

In John 1:5, we are told, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

What I learned in today's chapel moment is that we should keep looking for the light. But, maybe, just maybe... we should look somewhere other than to friends... activities..  .family... account....or the mirror.

Maybe.. just maybe... we should try looking to the original Light. It only takes one little flame to cause the darkness to fade away.

*sanctuary photo courtesy Providence UMC

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chapel A Day - Day 17 (One Way In- One Way Out)

Okay.... so, stay with me on this one. I promise you won't get lost. One way in--- one way out.

Today's chapel moment came not from sitting in a chapel, but from walking around in circles!

Photo ©: Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos
Chartres Cathedral in France is the site of the only surviving medieval labyrinth in the world.  
A labyrinth is a circle with a path that winds from the entry point to the center.. and then back out again. It's not like a maze, where the walker can become confused by the choices of going this way or that. The labyrinth has a structured path with no options that might lead the walker to become lost or disoriented. You enter and leave at the same point. 

One way in--one way out.

The tradition of walking the labyrinth dates back four to five thousand years. In Christianity today, many of the faithful will walk the pattern of the labyrinth as a way of settling the mind and spirit, and for focusing on developing a closer walk with God.

My introduction to the labyrinth came at the University of West Florida. The Chartres Labyrinth was re-created in the Commons Auditorium. I didn't know what to expect, as I walked into the darkened room, which was illuminated by candlelight and was filled with the soft sounds of medieval music.

I sat in a chair for a few minutes, adjusting to the dim light, listening to the music and thinking about why I was here. I took off my shoes, took a deep breath and took my first step. I walked slowly, alternating between praying.. and listening. When I got to the center, I just stopped.

 Like you, there are a lot of concerns on my mind and heart each day. Concerns for myself, my loved ones and my world. I stood in the center for a few minutes and did my best to release those concerns to the One who "holds the whole world in His hands." Then I turned, and began making my way out.

My steps were lighter on the way out, as I retraced my foorprints When I reached the exit/entry, I felt stronger and more peaceful.

I discovered in this unusual chapel moment that  my Christian faith is much like this labyrinth. Unlike other paths, this one is solid and sure. It's not a maze that can confuse and confound. It is structured, focused and secure. I can't get lost, if I stay on the path and remember... 

One Way in.... One Way out.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 16 (You Never Know What You'll Hear)

The Chapel at First United Methodist Church
Pensacola FL
The lighting in the small chapel was dim and conducive to prayer and meditation. Conducive to reading scripture and devotional material? Not so much. "That's okay," I thought. "I will just sit---and listen."

Have you ever sat in one place---for one hour---in the shadows---just listening? 

I  still haven't. 

Nope. Not that disciplined. I found my thoughts wandering from here to there. I prayed. I sang softly to myself. I tapped my feet. I whistled. I was what my grandmother used to call a "wiggle-worm."  I would corral my thoughts back in, only to have them wander off again. I almost nodded off.

I  had a flash of insight to what Peter, James and John might have felt like that night in Gethsemane. (Matthew 26) Jesus had asked them to keep watch while he prayed. Instead---they fell asleep.  "Couldn't you even keep watch for an hour?" He asked them.


I felt like I'd let the most important One down, by not even being able to sit still and listen for Him for one lousy hour. 

Immediately my thoughts jumped again. This time they landed on a stand up comedy routine I'd heard while visiting a friend's church. The routine featured two guys. One portrayed God and the other was, well---a regular guy. The regular guy had exhibited bad behavior and was apologizing to God. The regular guy said, "I just feel like I've let You down."

God replied--- "You were never holding Me up."

Wow. I guess I need to remember that. God holds ME up---not the other way around. HE doesn't need me to be still and listen to, or for, Him for an hour---or as long as it takes. 

I need it.

I stopped looking at the clock. I started looking at front of the chapel. I sat. I focused. I listened. 

What did I hear? I'll tell you in a few days when I get it all straightened out in my head and in my heart. In the meantime, I'm gonna' go back to that chapel. Who knows what else I might hear in the sounds of silence?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 15 (Past Imperfect)

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
It was the perfect place to enjoy a recital of chamber music. 

Old Christ Church has been standing guard at this corner in Pensacola, Florida since 1832. It oozes history. Coupled with the 1800's-era music being played by University of West Florida students on the harpsichord, viola and cello, the atmosphere seemingly transported me back to a time when music, worship services, and life were seemingly more simple and pure.

About the third song in, the musicians were joined by a soprano soloist. Her voice was beautiful. She was perfect. Until... her voice cracked on a high note. Could have been the strain of the note.. could have been the pollen in the air... could have just been a fluke. The musicians continued to play. She stepped back, cleared her throat, stepped forward and continued on to a perfect finish. 

Today's chapel moment causes me to reflect on the word "perfect."

A few days ago, after writing and publishing a blog entry, I began to question the verb tense in one of my sentences. I called upon a couple of grammar gurus for help, including  the English Comp instructor I was lucky to have during my recent return to college. My grammar was correct, she assured me. I was using "past-perfect tense."

I laughed when I read that.. irreverently thinking, "Well my verb tense may be past-perfect, but when it comes to my life, it's more past-IMperfect!"

That's part of why I am trying to visit a chapel a day during the 40 days of Lent. It's not because I am "good" or "holy" or...Heaven forbid... "perfect." I am trying to iron out the imperfect wrinkles of my life and become better at what I do, who I am and who He wants me to be. 

©Drexel Gilbert Enterprises, Inc.
Is it working? I don't know, yet. I do know that these hours of reflective time have caused me to cross paths with people, stories, music, scriptures, history and ideas that I might not have encountered otherwise. These hours have also shown me the importance of following the example of the soloist in the recital: 

Don't let an imperfect moment keep you from enjoying a perfect finish.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chapel A Day-Day 13 (Hey, Will Somebody Get the Lights?)

"Here, let me turn on some light for you!" she said as we walked into the dark but lovely St.Mary's Episcopal Church. The historic church sits in the heart of downtown Milton, Florida. It's a small, quaint all-American city that makes you think of baseball, apple pie and Mayberry. 

"No, really, this is fine!" I replied, wanting to sit quietly in the empty church with only the muted sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. I had tried to visit it once before, but because it was late in the day, the building was locked, and I found myself in the courtyard instead. (See Day 3 here: Day 3: Now, Why Am I Here?)

As I did on that first trip, I gave thought to how many people shared space on these very pews over the past 100+ years. I thought about all of the baptisms, weddings, and funerals that had taken place here.  

I took in the exquisite stained-glass windows. It was a sunny day and I took note of the way the sunlight made the colors even more brilliant. And, then, because no bolt of inspiration had zapped me yet, I took out my Bible and began to read the passages I'd laid out for the day. I am making my way through the Book of Psalms. Today, I was up to Chapter 36... and looky here. 

Verse 6: "For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light, we see light."

Now, what was it the lady who let me into the church said? Oh, yes. 

"Here, let me turn on some light for you."

Then, just like every other visit to every other chapel during this Lenten season, the "light" bulb went off and I knew why I was here at this chapel on this particular.. sunny... day. 

Like many of you, I'm sure, I try to always look for the positive side of the day, the situation, the people I encounter, situations that come about. Like many of you, I'm sure, the darkness of certain situations often seems to snuff out the light. The darkness of illness, uncertainty, change... loss... can be overwhelming.

My studies during the season of Lent the past few years have taught me that even though the dark times of life are strong and painful, those dark times are never stronger than the Light. Like many of you, I'm sure, there are times when I don't have enough energy to produce my own light. What I learned in today's Chapel-A-Day time, is that  Psalm 36:9 tells me that we don't have to. 

Psalm 36:9 might be worded another way--

 "Here, let ME turn on some light for you." 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 12 (Wait- It's Not About Me? Really?)

She was standing outside the hospital chapel. She had a worried look on her face. I smiled at her and simply said, "Hello!"  Her worry lines turned into a smile. She replied, "Hi, there!" straightened her shoulders and walked away.. down the hall..toward the hospital exit.

I watched her walk away, then I entered the chapel at Pensacola, Florida's  Baptist Hospital. 

It was very dim. The cross, the Bible and the altar at the front of the room immediately caught my attention. I walked to the front, deposited my bible and devotionals on the front pew, and knelt at the small wooden rail altar.

As I have found myself doing many times during this Chapel-A-Day journey, I asked "Why am I here? Why this chapel on this day?" I continued with my hour of prayer and devotional time. The time spent here was satisfying and peaceful, but not especially enlightening or exciting. 

"Well, that's okay," I thought. Not every spiritual venture has to include a mountain-top moment. But, the nagging question stayed with me. "Why am I here?"

As I sat in the pew, retracing my steps, I recalled the hospital employee who stood outside apparently waiting for her ride at the end of her shift. I caught her eye, smiled and said "Hello." She smiled in return and then kept smiling as she turned her attention back to the road. As I entered the lobby, I saw the lady at the reception desk, looking distracted and tired.  I smiled, said "Well, good evening! Can you tell me where the chapel is located?" She turned her attention from her computer screen, smiled broadly and gave me spot-on directions, even standing up to point the way. There was the couple in the hallway on the way to the chapel, discussing the serious condition of the person they'd come to visit. I simply looked them in the eye and smiled as I passed by. The smiled in return.. then turned and smiled at each other and grabbed hands.

Then, I thought, "Guess what, Drexel? Sometimes it's not about you. Maybe, just maybe.. today you were led to the chapel in this hospital not because of something YOU needed, but because there were a few people here who needed someone to look them in the eye.. and smile. They didn't need a motivational speech, or a sermon, or a blog entry to read. They just needed a smile."

Have you ever wondered why you cross paths with the people you see each day? Whether strangers or someone  you know, maybe... just maybe... there's a very important reason you run into these people. Maybe they need your encouragement. Maybe they need your help. Maybe they need your ear.. or shoulder. Maybe they just need your smile.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly tells us to "encourage one another." The lesson for me in today's Chapel-A-Day journey is to remember that it's not about me. It's all about HIM.. and that means, in part, being aware of what I can do to show Him to others.. sometimes by making someone else's day better, brighter, easier---and it may just start with a smile.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chapel A Day- Day 11 (Chasing Peace)

"This is definitely not a chapel," I think to myself as I sit in quite possibly one of the most beautiful and elegant churches along the Gulf Coast. The word 'chapel' brings to mind (at least to my mind) a small country church, or a small room within a church that is set aside for more private worship.
Trust me on this one. There is nothing small about the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  

At its highest point, the ceiling is 60 feet and its twin towers are 103 feet tall. The stained-glass windows (made in Munich, Germany) are 23' tall and are breathtakingly beautiful. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the cathedral stands tall and proud in the heart of downtown Mobile, Alabama. 

Although not a Catholic, I have spent many hours in this church meditating, praying and shutting out the world for at least a few moments in time. Even before this Lenten Chapel-A-Day odyssey began, I would seek out an open sanctuary from time to time for a spiritual refueling stop. It's not easy to find churches that are open during the weekdays. I learned that the Cathedral is open daily-- for tours, for a noon mass for Roman Catholics.. and simply as a place of prayer and spiritual reflection for all-- including this Protestant who finds the church a place of comfort, a place of enlightenment, and a place of peace.

One of the scriptures in my chapel-time this week comes from Psalm 34: "Seek peace and pursue it." (verse 14) I've read that verse many times. I've highlighted it and underlined it. But this time my eyes focused on one.. very small... word.


Pursue. The definition includes the synonyms: persist, hunt... and chase.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a huge fan of keeping the peace. But, for me, that typically means a passive action-- mediating a disagreement (when asked) between other people; walking away from a touchy situation; smiling when I want to scream! 

This one...very small... word presents me with a challenge to examine my efforts at 'keeping the peace."  How can I become more effective in creating an atmosphere of  peace in the world around me? How can I "chase" peace in order to create a better environment and better relationships--- for my family, my friends, my community and my world?

Truth is---I don't know just yet. Like this majestic cathedral in which I sit, constructing a plan for peace is a huge undertaking...even on a small, personal scale. 

But, it's something I intend to think about in the coming days. 

In no small measure.