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Creating a Pilgrimage Way Station

As part of exploring the pilgrimage path before me, I’ve renewed an enthusiasm for creating my home as a way station. As pilgrims through the ages have needed a place to rest along on their journeys, I dream of my home as being such a place. People may not be wearily walking to Compostela before arriving at my door, but they are on other journeys and need a place for a cool drink of water (or some ice-cream) and a listening ear.

At the same time I want a place that invites me to be attentive to God in the midst of this life journey and a place where others can join – not only to rest on the way, but also to be encouraged and explore their next steps within God’s story.

I imagine that this home will be a way station for reading, writing, thinking, praying, and feasting. A place of safety, but also of challenge. Meeting God and meeting with others is always fraught with the potential for discomfort. Yet in the midst of the discomfort is that abundant life.

In this place I see

  • images of journeys on the walls
  • books of inspiration on the shelves
  • tables for meals with friends and family
  • chairs to gather in conversation
  • desks for writing and dreaming

IMG_3999As I select colors for the walls, consider fabrics for the chairs, wait for bookcases to be installed in the basement and the carpet to be laid, I’m eager to fill the shelves with rows of books and albums of photos. Poetry and prose. Family and travel. I picture how I will set up the furniture with open space for conversation and quiet areas for writing.

In this way station I see my nieces drawing and writing, or students making a meal together. I envision people engaged with God’s Word or discussing the latest bestseller. I imagine a group planning a trip to England or service in the neighborhood. There will be space for laughter and tears.

In all of this we remember that we are living in the now and the not yet, following a merciful Guide as we continue the journey on which we find ourselves.

 

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Mercy Not Sacrifice

Over the past weeks, my days, and I’m sure many of yours, have turned into a litany of tasks. This litany begins in my head, moves to a written form in a small, black planner, and then, eventually, takes shape as action.

As the days have progressed, I’ve lost sight of the reason for this activity. All I can do is look at the next item on the list. Print labels for Christmas cards. It’s checked off. Touch up newly painted walls. Check. I’m completing tasks, yet joy is missing. Are the cards and painting merely tasks I feel I’m supposed to do or do they help me live into a larger story? While a purpose behind these activities is missing, patience for anything outside of my small to-do list is nearly absent.

To counter this dry spell, I’m eager to return, or at least be more aware of, the pilgrim path on which I’m walking. Right now I may be on a path, but I’m not sure why. With this renewed desire, a verse keeps going through my head, though it’s one not usually associated with this time of year. As the Pharisees are criticizing Jesus for hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus urges them to learn what this means:

I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matt 9:13, 12:7)

I’ve undertaken this challenge myself. When I consider the daily litany of tasks, I know I’m in the realm of sacrifice. I’m trying to prove myself to God and to people. I want them to see the sacrifices I make so that they will pat me on the back and even step up to help. Though I may receive some initial profit from this way, I know it’s a desert path. A path that leads back to me even as I claim to be doing for others. Sacrifice alone is a withering, dead end. Furthermore, no amount of sacrifice on my part will come close to what God requires of me – perfection. So what can I do?

Looking through the lens of mercy changes this question. It’s not about what I can do, but what has been done for me. It turns out when I look more closely at my life, I need mercy – and this comes in the Christmas story. The angels mentioned by Luke weren’t singing mournful tunes of the sacrifice God was making for his people by taking on human flesh. No, they were singing joyous anthems resting in God’s mercy.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. (Luke 2:14)

IMG_3963So as I look at these lists again in the midst of Christmas, I pray that they will become a litany of praise to God for the work He has done and, in this awareness, that I will extend mercy to those around me in both times of brokenness and celebration. Ultimately, I seek a pilgrim path that is continually looking to God to mercifully guide, allowing me to be wrapped in its extravagance, and then living out of that reality no matter the situation, or how long the list.

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Autumnal Memories

IMG_3872Rustling red leaves on the young oak tree remember past dreams. Dreams that my mother had to see this tree take root and grow in the yard, rising above her home’s roof. Dreams of grandchildren and great grandchildren playing beneath it, finding a place of rest and refuge as they runaround in games of tag and hide-and-seek or sit and read a favorite book. An image of a family rooted in the solid ground of faith and one another.

In its first year, some of the leaves and branches withered, almost as if this ground couldn’t support it. The hoped for strength was disappearing. But with some extra fertilizer and a few strategic trims, the tree had the needed nourishment. Finally, the buds opened and leaves again covered the branches late in the spring looking forward to its glorious fall colors

However, the dreams of seeing this tree mature over the decades through my mother’s care disappeared while she passed away last fall as red leaves slowly fell to the ground.

I cry knowing that she’s not sitting in the living room looking out of the window and relishing the red hues as the tree flourishes for a third year. But it’s not only her lost dreams of seeing a majestic oak grow that have me crying, it’s the lives of her children and grand children of which she will not be a physical part. The loss of times that we don’t get to spend with her to be encouraged with her smile and words. The loss of her absolute joy in seeing beauty before her without critique or condemnation. The loss of the stories that won’t be.

Still I see the brilliant red that my mom was looking forward to enjoying every year to welcome autumn’s call, celebrating the year past and the one to come. As I look at the leaves moving in the breeze of this autumn afternoon, I experience my mom’s unadulterated joy.

This tree, though it reminds me of the past, also pulls me into the present, into the heart and hands my mom held open before all of life. I long to fill my days with this posture. To drink in what is before me today. The colors, the conversations, the opportunities. The see through this tree the beauty it brings for today and the hope for tomorrow. It will continue to grow and my mom’s children and grandchildren will continue to live, rooted in the life soil she tilled and nourished for us.

Today red leaves, tomorrow the shade of a full grown oak and the stories of family and friends coming to life out of the lives of those that have gone before. A brilliant showing.

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Hitting the Wall and Breaking Out

IMG_2772It’s been a rough summer and several weeks ago I hit a wall. As usual I had a task list ready and knew what needed to get done to reach a set of goals. There weren’t any outside meetings to get in the way of completing the list that Thursday. Yet, I couldn’t . . . push . . . through . . .. Most of the morning I just read and re-read the list. Some internal barrier was stopping me.  I kept thinking that if I can just get through this list, then I could rest. But there was always another list.

The problem wasn’t so much in the lists, as in the thinking that I was alone responsible for accomplishing everything. Eventually the tasks had become so disparate that I didn’t see the larger vision of why I was doing them and I didn’t see the One behind it all. No wonder I hit a wall. For days on end these tasks became bricks that I thought I were adding to an expansive vision of life, when in reality I was walling myself into a solitary cell.

Gradually each task became a burden and I started living as if once I got through them I’ll then be good enough to connect with God or with others. Until then, it was just me on my own. In my mind I knew this was wrong and pictured the abundant life God promises, but my actions belied belief.

Fortunately, hitting the wall led me to see that I needed to somehow get out. Instead of thinking that I was building a life on my own, I needed to stand alongside others in its building. Nehemiah uses the phrases “Next to them” and “After” over 25 times in Nehemiah 3 to indicate a continuous line of people repairing the walls of Jerusalem, one next to / after the other. Here was a wall that was being built for a larger vision and drew people together.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

I needed to see that larger vision. So, I took a day off. No looking at task lists or e-mails. I slowly got ready and went for a walk then headed to the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky to pray in this space of quiet expanse. Afterwards I walked around the Cincinnati Art Museum for an hour. Not honing in on any specific work, but reveling in the beauty and craft of the paintings and sculptures. My breathing slowed and shoulders lowered. I could look and enjoy. Be inspired. Receive new breath from the work of others and from the beauty that God has created all around us. A quiet lunch and a stroll through Ault Park rounded out the afternoon.

Going home my trained mind wanted to return that list and find commendation in doing something. Maybe I would start cleaning. But I had to say no. This constant treadmill of trying to keep up with work was not life giving. I needed to think of other ways to fill time set aside for rest. Reading, writing, and organizing photos from a pilgrimage last summer took up the rest of the day. In these activities I found rest and started to again see a larger picture of the work before me, before all of us.

With a new view and breath, I am looking at these tasks differently. Not as a list to plow through, but as opportunities to serve God, one another, and enjoy life together.

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A New Ministry Journey – Seeking the Shalom of the University

This summer I’m beginning in a new ministry focus.  Here’s a brief view into the journey on which God is leading me.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  -Jeremiah 29:4-7

IMG_3384God is doing a tremendous work on the universities in Greater Cincinnati, a work similar of that to which he calls the exiles in Babylon. While campuses are not places of exile, at least for most people, the call to seek the peace of the place where we are situated is universal.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, through its Graduate and Faculty Ministries, is helping to “build homes and plant gardens” on these campuses by walking alongside graduate students and faculty in their callings to these places, helping them along their journeys as they seek to live out the life of God’s kingdom on campus and to draw others into His peace. These are the people God is using to transform the universities.  Starting July of this year, I will be joining InterVarsity in this mission.

During the past years serving at UC, I’ve seen how God is working on campus, particularly in the lives of graduate students and faculty. As these individuals delve deeply into research across disciplines and teach undergraduates, they are having a significant impact on the university and beyond. Yet, there is also great need for them to see God’s mercy in their lives and seek opportunities to reach out with this same mercy to others. That is, to continue to seek God’s welfare in this place.

In the context of the campus, we are seeking the welfare of places where people are learning about God’s amazing creation, cultivating and sharing a love for beauty, and speaking mercy into the hurts of the world. It’s also a place where God’s shalom – true peace and welfare – is often absent. This lack of peace is seen through the isolation and alienation that many students and faculty experience, the extreme workloads that can result in stress and broken lives, or the divisive interactions among individuals and departments. Over the past months God’s words to Jeremiah have been an encouragement and model for the lives of graduate students and faculty as they yearn see God’s peace on campus.

  • Students have been remembering the ways God has been faithful over the past months and want desire to share this faithfulness with others;
  • Faculty have been praying for the campus and starting to meet for Bible study and prayer.
  • Both students and faculty have been asking what it looks like to be Christ on campus.

As I begin to work full-time with IVCF this summer, my focus is on planting and building communities of graduate students and faculties at UC and NKU – bringing together people who love God, learning, and the campus  To be able to do so, I’m also building a support team to surround this ministry in prayer and ongoing financial support in monthly increments of $25 to $200. There are also opportunities to partners by supplying meals, mentoring, and hosting events. If you would like to learn more about this work, and partnership in it, please contact me at jamie.noyd@gmail.com.  You can also check out www.intervarsity.org/gfm or Cincinnati Case Brochure PDF. Though I’ve been on campus for several years, this change is a new journey in trusting God and serving him on campus.  I’m excited to see where He takes this work.

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Experiencing Joy in Work

IMG_3482Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10

“May you experience joy in your fundraising.”

This postcard arrived in my mailbox last week and now hangs on my refrigerator. It’s not the message I normally associated with fundraising. Anxiety? Fear? Stress? Yes. But joy? Not so much.

What about you? What would seem out of place for you on a similar card?

Raising a teenager?
Cooking dinner?
Commuting to work?
Finding a job?

There’s much in life that we don’t naturally see as joyful. But if we look at scripture, joy isn’t dependent on our circumstances. Joy is from God. It is being connected with hime It’s a product of his peace, his shalom.

As I prepare to serve full-time with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the fall, I’m entering a season of fundraising For years the mere thought of having to raise funds for a salary prevented me from taking this leap into campus ministry. But as ministry to graduate students and faculty has been growing in Greater Cincinnati, I know this is the next step.

My first response to this work of fundraising has been resistance. I see myself battling with my inner introvert, my fears of rejection, my grasping to material security. I come up with many excuses why I shouldn’t contact this or that person.

However, over the past weeks a new story is weaving through this work – the story of God’s gracious ministry to the campus and desire for peace. Seeing this story, I’m becoming more eager to invite others into the ministry and more open to seeing how God will work in each appointment. I don’t need to be concerned about getting a certain amount of financial support from a given individual, instead I can watch how God is working and be thankful. I can step out in his joy.

A simple call to a distant relative encouraged me more. I called with some trepidation thinking I would be asking too much. But not long into the conversation I heard support for the ministry, a willingness to share other contacts, and some wonderful stories about my father’s family. I also learned I had called on this cousin’s birthday. Without the fundraising work, I would not have called and would have missed building these family connections.

There can be joy where we least expect it.

Of course, this joy isn’t only about the events that turn out well. Whether I feel it or not, joy is also present when I receive a return postcard from a family friend to remove them from the mailing list – or when I have a list of 20 people to call with whom I haven’t spoken ever or in decades. Looking to God’s joy instead of my fear changes even these interactions – if I will only remember.

May you see joy – God’s joy – in your work today.

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Ruth: An Unexpected Story

96aaa4b2405372e8_640_fieldsThe journey through Ruth continues – check out the latest installment at the Emerging Scholars Blog – http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2015/03/ruth-an-unexpected-story/.

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Devotions on Ruth and More

b5e02f5625224d26_640_pathOver the coming weeks a series of devotions on Ruth that I wrote for the Emerging Scholars Network’s online devotion, Scholar’s Compass will be posted.  If you’re interested in seeing them, here’s the link to the first one Ruth: Stopped Along the Way.  While you’re there, check out the other devotions and resources.  Enjoy!

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First Bloom of Spring – and Beyond

IMG_3446Yesterday I saw the first bulb blooming in the front garden – an Early Snow Glory. It appears delicate, but it has fought through the cold and snow of the winter to get here. What a beautiful sight after the weeks of snow and cold of February and early March. Yes, spring is coming and with it the promise of possibilities.

These small blue flowers are also another reminder of my mother who planted the bulbs years ago and always looked forward to their appearing each year. A bittersweet remembrance of the seeds of love and faith that both my parents planted in their children and with everyone they met.

However, my parents aren’t the only ones who planted seeds in my life. Many people in the past and present, those I’ve known, but many I haven’t, who have planted seeds that continue to sprout. There’s a beautiful garden to view and tend if only I have eyes to do so.

But it’s not only about looking at the garden that has already been planted. Where am I sowing seed? On a literal level, I have a packet of Canterbury Bell seeds sitting in my in-box. When I think of having to plant them in small containers so they can sprout before they go into the ground I wonder if it’s worth the effort and laziness takes over. Then, what if the flowers become trampled or waterlogged? What if they don’t grow? So I’m afraid of putting anything in the ground. However, storing them is also a problem. Last year I threw away a box of flower bulbs that had started to mold and disintegrate when I did not plant them soon enough. So much potential, gone.

It takes faith to plant bulbs: faith that this effort will result in a flower months from now, faith that the earth and the rain will provide the conditions for growth. It’s similar with other seeds that we plant. When I personally think of sharing ideas, compliments, concern, even an invitation to dinner, I’m not sure what will happen. How will the other person react? However, if I never step out these potential interactions, seeds if you will, can decay. So I’m convinced that we need to let go and share our love for friends and family, ideas for changing our corner of the world, our skills for helping others. Though it may be a challenge for some of us, it is worth it to find the soil that will nourish these seeds and see what grows.

As I watch each bulb blossom this summer, I will continue to be reminded of my mother and all that she planted. But I will also be reminded to plant my own seeds. Some will be actual flower bulbs, but others will be through relationships, ministry, and writing.

After a winter of being inside, it is time to step out. What’s the worst that can happen when we plant these seeds in the world? I predict that a garden of riotous color will emerge.  Let’s get planting.

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Making a Home

For years I dreamt of having a house. A place to call my own. Out of this desire, I’ve always tried to make any room, no matter how small, into a home. This is true whether it’s been a dorm room, a field station bunk bed, or an office in my parents’ house. I created comfortable places, surrounded by my stories, but also places where others could visit and tell theirs.

After a while the dream of owning a house faded. I secretly enjoyed living in small spaces within a community – whether that be family or school. In these homes within a home I had the freedom to travel and to change jobs since I didn’t have to bear the responsibilities of keeping up a house. I also had the comfort of knowing that other people were around. I felt safe.

Now, after giving up that dream, I find myself with a house and a bundle of fears. I wonder about traveling away from this place for any length of time and having something break down or fall apart. I worry that the finances won’t be there to keep it up. I’m also concerned that I may spend too much time alone now that no one lives down the hall. All this on top of the deep grief I feel at the loss of my mother who wanted me to care for this house.

However, I inherited more than a building. This was the home she and my father had purchased for their retirement. They wanted a place that welcomed people for meals and was grandchild friendly. Children, grandchildren, family members, and many friends were the lifeblood of this place. Every surface in the living room – the mantel, dining room hutch, curio cabinet, and bay window shelf – was full of photographs, each an image of dear friends and family. So whether the dining room table was surrounded with family for a birthday celebration or my mom and I were sitting down to a simple meal, the lives of the people my mom and dad loved were always evident. Some of my mom’s last words centered on the joy she knew in having had a lovely family and a lovely home.  And it truly was a home for many people.

Even though I am thankful for this gift, this is not the house I dreamt about owning, and definitely not the way I wanted it to come about. I wanted my mother to be part of helping set up a house as she brought a peace lily for the front table or made curtains for the bedroom. I wanted my father to help paint rooms and plant trees. But, I don’t have that dream, I have a building – and I have the legacy of my parents. So, I’ve decided to celebrate the lives my parents lived in this place by remembering their spirits through my own expressions of home.

IMG_3399The multitude of photographs are now put away and the frames are ready to be filled with other images. The space is ready for new memories.  Into this home I invite friends, family, and guests to fill it with their lives and creativity.

  • A place of story and transformation.
  • A pilgrimage way station.
  • A writers’ retreat. A shelter.
  • A place to feast on life.

These ideas come from my mother and father who encouraged their children to dream and grow. They read to us, provided us with marvelous opportunities, and surrounded us with love and faith. Out of this soil I am eager to revisit that dream of having a house and to become the active creator, instead of the passive recipient, of the blessings of home.

A lovely home.

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