Having courage and hope in the midst of change is the subject of Rev. Benton Heisler’s January blog.
REV. BENTON HEISLER
Director of Connectional Ministry, West Michigan
This weekend we were able to take time and do the “post-Epiphany decorations take down.” While making the trips up and down the stairs from the living room to the basement shelves, where each seasons’ décor is safely stored, I began to reflect upon all the changes of the past 12 months.
Both of our daughters and spouses, their child and dogs had moved. Some of those belongings have turned one room in our home into a scene from a “storage barn auction.” A toddler bed now occupies a 3’x 6’ piece of prime carpet real estate. The toy bin seems to have enlarged. Gates are now in place to safely partition the stairs and hall, so that dogs and toddler and the unsteady stroke recovery aging parent coexist with some comparison to the “lion and lamb” biblical image. (Yes, a run on sentence…but that is the reality!)
There was that one moment when it all seemed like the “morning commute sub-way” had exited an entire trainload of travelers in our living room and kitchen. There we were: a 100# Bernese Mountain dog (who barks when you talk), three Golden Retrievers (one of whom likes to play tug of war with the Bernese); a preschooler, (who is afraid of dogs), is huddled at the Little Tykes play kitchen; two toddlers, their toys and highchairs; the 86-year-old grandparent; the other ten adults; all the boots, coats, shoes, sleds, a wagon, the Christmas tree and two tables with all the extra extension leaves inserted. Two kinds of soup simmered on the stove and I was flipping grilled cheese sandwiches like a short order cook at Bob Evans! There was no time for quiet sipping of coffee while leisurely enjoying the homemade cinnamon caramel bread.
“There were accommodations and compromises that had to be made. New family traditions emerged, values and priorities had to be verbalized and accounted for.”
The setting was much different than my 1950’s and 60’s childhood Christmas at my grandparents, eating tins of popcorn while sitting by the coal potbelly stove on a dirt road in the farmland of northern Indiana, where even the rabbit ears on the TV could barely access one South Bend station.
So much had changed! And that is ok.
There was laughter, excitement, new memories being made and stories of the past year’s travels were being told. The next generation was being mentored, the oldest generation felt honored and by the end of the day the toddler was hugging the 100# Bernese with a smile saying, “The doggy likes me!” There were also accommodations and compromises that had to be made. New family traditions emerged, values and priorities had to be verbalized and accounted for. Everyone did not share the same availability of discretionary income or physical energy. There were some moments of grief as we recalled the parents who have gone before us and gratitude for the gifts the memory of their love has left behind.
We are just six months away from our Michigan Area Annual Conference at the Grand Traverse Convention Center in Acme, MI. It will be a change for all of us. I am thankful that the 2,500 of us who are the Michigan Conference of the UMC will have ample room to worship, meet, eat, park, sleep and relax. I don’t believe we will feel all overcrowded like our living room and this recent family Christmas. Plans will be made for the years ahead and celebrations will take place to recognize what God has done in our midst in the past. I am sure there is one thing or another we perceive “we are afraid of”. I am also confident that with enough non-anxious engagement by all of us together, we may even discover we have actually grown accustomed and even appreciative of that which seemed so odd and unfamiliar to us initially. We don’t all come from the same size congregations, and our success and struggle is as diverse as the counties across the state.
The people of Israel were about to cross over from their wandering in the desert to the land God had promised. The first chapter of Joshua contains multiple reminders to “Be strong, do not be afraid. I the Lord have provided all you have needed.” The people replied, “All that you have commanded us we will do and wherever you send us we will go (1: 17).
“I am thankful that the 2,500 of us who are the Michigan Conference will have ample room … I don’t believe we will feel all overcrowded like our living room and this recent family Christmas.”
We are a “sent” people. Perhaps it is a fitting metaphor and experience that our beginnings as a new Conference have us moving from Adrian and Calvin to Lansing and now to Acme. “We have never done this, this way before,” can be our proclamation of God’s moving and creative Holy Spirit in our midst, and not simply the complaint of personal preference. Jesus has told us “To go and make disciples…”
If our extended family was still gathered around the coal burning stove on that Indiana farm, the pollution would be greater, the pipes would still freeze on the coldest days, the only people we might see would be the Amish family down the road who would come to leave the eggs and remove the coins left in the cup on the end table by the pitcher pump. This past Christmas season, I couldn’t have been happier, flipping grilled cheese sandwiches like a short order cook at Bob Evans, while the dogs barked, the children squealed and everyone laughed.
So much has changed! And that is ok! “Be strong, do not be afraid.” God hasn’t changed. God still seeks us out, offers Grace, sends the Holy Spirit to sustain us and the Eternal Saving Love of Jesus Christ empowers us to not fear death.
~“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:13 New Jerusalem Bible.)” Each article I write for this column is based in the guidance of a particular Scripture passage. I pray that these reflections, stories and information will assist you in your own witness and service as a Disciple of Jesus Christ