Where Love Abides: A Prayer of Love by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Where there is love, O God,
You abide:
in circles of friends and family,
in congregations,
in gatherings around tables
and Christmas trees.
 
Where there is love, O God,
You abide:
in moments of selfless service,
in gentle words,
in comforting touch
and in shared tears.
 
Where there is love, O God,
You abide:
in a silent night,
in the crowded cities,
in all the miles
of all our journeys.
 
Everywhere we go,
O God,
You love us
and You invite us
to abide.

 . . . . . . . . .

God, in Your abiding love,
kindle Your fire in us.
 
As we walk the Advent journey
keep our gaze focused on the Flame of Love
and guide us by Your Perfect Light.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in San Antonio, Texas. She blogs at One Faithful Step and Ordinary Times.

Painting the Church by Pam Durso

Last Saturday, I stood next to two teenage girls, both holding paint rollers and both wearing paint-splattered shirts. I shook my head and marveled for these two girls are our “church painters.” They had a little help, but the two of them had just painted the majority of the walls in our church’s new sanctuary. At one point, I said to them, “What other church do you know that would put teenage girls in charge of painting its worship space?” They laughed, and one replied, “I know! Isn’t it cool?”

I must admit that the paint job was not completely evened out, and a few areas needed some touch-up work. But for me, I found much delight in their presence, in their laughter, and in this new friendship formed over a paint can. I also found much joy in the fact that I am a member of church that hands paint rollers to teenagers and invites them to be part of the process of creating a beautiful place for our congregation to gather.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Sisters of Visitation by Pam Durso

Earlier this week I discovered that I live about five miles from a Sisters of Visitation monastery. The monastery is located in Snellville, Georgia–not too far from the Target where I do most of my shopping. On Tuesday, I set off to find this monastery, hoping to spend some time praying in their chapel and walking on their grounds. But I discovered that it not a monastery that is open to the public. They are a cloistered community with only a handful of nuns living and working together.

Although I was greatly disappointed to find the gate locked, I was amazed by the serenity and quietness of the small campus. Mostly, however, I was intrigued by the name “Sisters of Visitation” and by the inspiring statue that stands on the front lawn–a statue of two women reaching out to one another. The two women have to be Mary and Elizabeth, embracing as they share the good news of their pregnancies.

I sat in my car on Tuesday, thinking about the relationships of Mary and Elizabeth. While they were cousins, I sense that they were also “sisters of the heart.”  And I read between the lines in Luke’s gospel and imagine their conversations. In my mind, I can see the two women, sitting in silence, holding hands, sharing a knowing smile. I love the sisterhood shared by Mary and Elizabeth.

I have my own “sisters of the heart,” and I recently had opportunity to gather with some of my favorite women. I gave myself a birthday party–to celebrate turning fifty! Women from various segments of my life came together, and I had the honor of introducing them–not by their job titles or by their roles in life. Instead I shared briefly their importance to me–how they have touched my life.

In planning the party and in experiencing that night of celebration, I have given much thought to the significant role that women friends have in my life, and I have been reminded again of how blessed I am. I have deep friendships, spread wide across age, geography, and life experience.

One of my friends who attended is actually my sister, Kenda. She is one of my younger sisters. We have shared memories of growing up in a family of four sisters—no brothers.  What I have learned from Kenda is that sisters can be close friends, and having a sister, who is also my friend, means that I have someone with whom I share memories of the past but can also share struggles of the present and dreams for the future.  My friendship with Kenda adds richness to my life, and I was pretty amazed that she flew from Dallas to Atlanta to be at my birthday party!

But Kenda was not the only one who flew in for the party. My friend, Julie, also came from Dallas to celebrate with me. I wish, oh how I wish, that I journaled. Because if I did, I would have written down all the wonderful, crazy, funny things that Julie has said to me. She has made me laugh harder than most anyone I know. And because she makes me laugh, she also makes me cry. She has pulled stories out of me—and I have found myself telling her my deep, dark secrets. Laughter and tears are somehow intimately connected—and I am thankful for a friend who laughs with me and cries with me and is willing to travel all the way from Texas just to come to my party!

My good friend, Devita, also attended my party. One of my all-time favorite things to do in life is have lunch or breakfast or coffee with Devita. I always take my notebook and pen—because I have to take notes. Our lunches end up not being not so much about food but about solving all the problems of the world, organizing everyone and everything—and I like to write down all our ideas. But what I love most about lunches with Devita is that we don’t just plot and plan, we get to work and make things happen. My time with Devita gives me energy, brings out my creative side. She inspires me, pushes me to think and to do more, dream bigger. Everyone should have a friend like Devita!

My birthday buddy, Suzanah, drove from Florida to be present for my birthday. Suzanah and I share November 30 birthdays. We don’t, however, share birth years. Suzanah is still far, far away from fifty. I am the “older” friend, but she looks past my ancientness and loves me anyway! For the past five years, Suzanah and I have celebrated our birthdays together–not always on November 30, but we have always managed to be together near the date of our births. Over the years, Suzanah has taught me many, many things—including to love traveling. She marched me to the top of Diamond Head in Honolulu in the summer of 2010, and one day she drove me around the entire island. And we vowed that someday we would move to Hawaii! Suzanah is the only reason I ended up in Prague and Germany in 2009. I was convinced that I could not go, but she promised to go with me! And she did! And while we were there, I made her take a long, long train trip all the way to Wittenberg, and on a very cold January afternoon, we sat in Martin Luther’s church on a beautiful wooden pew and talked about courage and prophetic preaching and living fully. And I carry a snapshot of that day in my heart—and am thankful that Suzanah has taught me so much about courage and convictions and friendship.

LeAnn also came to celebrate my birthday. I met LeAnn back in 2005. She was a recent seminary graduate, serving on church staff in Atlanta. She was single—and frankly, she seemed so very young to me. But I watched and soon discovered that she was already such a strong leader, a passionate minister.  And then life changed for LeAnn—she got married, moved to California, then moved back to Georgia. She had a sweet baby boy—and in the midst of all those changes, LeAnn walked me along with me and dreamed with me. Hers was the voice of discernment that I listened to when I pondered the crazy idea of leaving a known job and venturing into the full-time world of Baptist Women in Ministry. Hers was the voice of reason—she asked me the hard questions, walked me through proper procedure and organizational structuring, and best of all, hers was the voice of love and encouragement—she told me to follow my heart, and I did. And I am thankful beyond words for LeAnn’s voice, her love, and her never-ending encouragement.

These are but a few of the women who attended. Grace, Sarah, Jessica, Emily, Gwen, Robin, Vicki, Libby, Carol, Renee, Aimee, and Alex all were there at the party too. I was pretty overwhelmed that so many came! And blessed, very blessed!

While I am not cloistered together with my “Sisters of Visitation,” I am bound to them by love and friendship! They are my “sisters of the heart.”

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. 

Making a List and Checking it Twice . . . by Tammy Abee Blom

I am a list maker. I love those super-sticky-lined “Post It” notes because I can make a list and stick it to the fridge, the dash of the van, the front of my Sunday School book, and even the binder for my not so organized child. I like a good list, and I like to see it.

At this time of year, my lists are screaming at me to clean, decorate, wrap, pack, mail, bake, and on and on. My lists have reached epic proportions, because I am just organized enough to know I don’t have the time or energy to make it all happen. After a couple of deep breaths, I remembered a suggestion from my favorite magazine. “Make an ignore list.”

I collected my lists from all over the house and immediately transferred several items to the ignore list. Carefully, I went back over the list and asked,

  • Do I want to do this?
  • Do I have to do this, or can someone else do it?
  • Does anyone, other than me, care if this gets done?

I was surprised by the number of items that had slipped onto the list that I don’t even want to do. Why am I constructing a stand-up cut out for the kindergarten class? I don’t want to do that. I don’t how to do that! Next, I found several items that the girls can easily do. Certainly the girls can dust their rooms and vacuum. And then best of all, I identified items that only I care about. Some of these items I will do because I want to do them. I want to send Christmas cards and include a greeting for friends. Other items, such as hanging outdoor Christmas lights, are on the ignore list. If I am the only one who genuinely cares if it gets done, then I am going to be decisive about whether or not to complete the task.

So after making a list and checking it twice, I have discerned what gives me joy and shines light in my Advent season. And I have noted the tasks that consume time but bring no peace. During Advent, we should seek light over darkness. We should give graciously rather than through hurried obligation. We should walk in the spirit of joy and peace. When we give ourselves the gifts of joy and peace, we can freely share with others.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

A Prayer of Hope by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

God of Promise,
we turn to You from a broken world,
bringing all our hopes to Your altar:
 we hope for healing that gives abundant life
 we hope for equality that brings wholeness
 we hope for peace that abides
 
God of Promise,
we turn to You with loved ones on our hearts,
bringing all our hopes to Your altar:
 we hope for comfort where there is grief
 we hope for reconciliation where there is anger
 we hope for unity where there is division
 
God of Promise,
we turn to You in this season of celebration,
bringing all our hopes to Your altar:
 we hope for grace, to remember those in need
 we hope for gratitude, to remember how generously You have met our needs
 we hope for humility, to remember how much we always have need of You
 
God of the Promised One,
gather our hopes in Your heart
as we await Your coming day.
.  .  .
God of Promise,
kindle Your fire in us.
As we walk the Advent journey
keep our gaze focused on the Flame of Hope
and guide us by Your Perfect Light.
 
Amen.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in San Antonio, Texas. She blogs at www.onefaithfulstep.blogspot.com.

 

An Advent Poem for Preachers by Kyndall Renfro

You cannot force a sermon
Which helps to keep it holy.
Strange how Wednesday anxiety
Has turned to Friday calm
Though I am no closer
(from the looks of things)
to being ready for Sunday.
The minutes tick by
and I sit here
like a midwife.
The very atmosphere is pushing.
I position my hands
To catch what is birthed
When nature decides it is time.

 

Will I sit here all night?
I cannot stop the advent of Sunday
But I could miss the advent of the Spirit
If I rush to produce
What I can only receive.

 

God help the preachers
wait.

 

Kyndall Renfro is the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas.