Prayer: Garden Worm

Monday, July 8th, 2022

O God, Creator and Revealer of wonders and mysteries, your Divine Imagination is behind the fat, neon green worm with black stripes that devoured the fennel. I tried to pick her off, but its body squished between my fingers as she held tightly. I shrieked and pulled away!
“Ok, how am I going to deal with this pest?”
Research! <Google it.>
Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar. (Fennel bulb still harvestable).
A Revelation!
An assumed pest is actually a creature in transformation to something precious, beautiful and important – a butterfly!
Lesson: Don’t react – respond. Pause and investigate. Be opened. Oh God, you continue to teach me (silly me!). May I listen, learn and love more deeply as every day you are transforming me, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I pray today that whatever “pest” you encounter, you PAUSE and be opened to responding, rather than trying to pick it off and fling it away! It might be something beautiful!!!
Love, Pastor Meg

Blog: The Battery Ran Out

Cooler temperatures have increased my desire to get outside and do yard work – something I really enjoy and find relaxing. I was mowing our “grass” (if that’s what you can call what is growing – and NOT growing in our yard!) on Saturday, when the mower battery ran out. Not having the backup battery charged, I walked away thinking, “Well, I’ve got about 30 minutes to wait until I can continue my work.”

It’s Monday and guess what???… I just took this picture of the mower sitting exactly where I left it on Saturday. Not only did I “charge my battery” on Saturday by spending the rest of the day relaxing, I “charged my battery” on Sunday as well.

Rest and relaxation are important. We measure our success and progress on all the stuff we get done. Well, I have actually been trying to build minutes and hours of rest and/or relaxation into my work days. I work a little and come home and walk the dog or jump in the pool for 15 minutes. Somedays, I might even lay on the sofa and close my eyes for an hour. I am finding that a mix of rest/relaxation is actually helping my productivity and creativity when I do sit down to work. What if I started to measure my productivity on my resting?

It’s OK to leave the project sit in the middle of the yard and go rest. It’s still there… it’s not keeping track of time and and it’s not waiting for you. The pressure is off. It will get done. Try to give yourself the gift of rest and relaxation this week. Pause, Breath and say “Ahhhh….!” Go take a nap or a bath or a an entire day off!

Blog: How I Dream

When I get a thought I write it down on a large whiteboard hanging next to my desk in my home office. I guess it’s my vision board, but as a “words person,” for me its always about the text. This has been the place to record the “inklings” that seem to literally pop into my head (strangely often when I am in the shower! Which leads me to digress… I once had a sponsee who would call me to help her problem solve an issue. She’d lay it all out and say, “Now go take a shower and call me back with your answer!”).

On this board I have written, “A home where all grow, serve, transform together,” in reference to the Hope Recovery building on Winston Ave. On Sunday, August 7th, we began hosting a congregation called Spiritual Soul Center in our space. As I sat in the congregation, listening to Rev. Paula Zabkar expound on her vision and journey of getting to our space, I cried with joy. THIS IS IT! What I hoped, dreamed and prayed for. For each paint brush stroke, toilet cleaned and piece of art meticulously chosen… we have over the past months recreated the church into a space of welcome, beauty and a place that feels like home. This is exactly what I intended and intend our space to be – a sanctuary for anyone seeking deeper healing in the light and love of God’s Grace. A place where you can say, “I belong here,” and sink in.

I”ll continue to dream my dreams, record the “pops” of thought that strangely fly into my brain as I’m shaving my legs in the shower (TMI!?) and you’ll find me dancing in the sanctuary with the music blasting when I’m in the building alone (sorry neighbors!). May God continue to bless, work in and redeem this little church on Winston Ave. so it will be used and useful, a beacon of light in the darkness and a place where people find love, safety and belonging. My cup runs over.

Amen. Gracious and loving God, I give you A MILLION THANKS!!!

Blog: Beloved

How many times do we advise ourselves to love ourselves more? In my 20+ years in recovery, how I’ve loved myself has grown and changed. When I got sober, loving myself meant committing to attending my 5:30pm home group so I could connect with the recovery program and the fellowship. At the time, my children didn’t so much agree with me. With a 5:30pm meeting, that meant they stayed at baby-sitting longer and dinner was later.

Over the years, I loved myself more by setting boundaries, making better choices, finding my voice and learning to say “no.” It is an ongoing process that consistently takes me to new depths. Recently, I attended a retreat for women who had all experienced trauma. We talked a lot about God’s healing love, but some of the women in the group, also still felt deep guilt and shame about what they had been through.

Shame is a place where God’s love and self-love can’t flourish. Shame keeps us trapped in dark pits, under the weight of false beliefs, blame and victimization. Shame skews the way we see and feel about ourselves. What if there was another inroad to cultivating self love?

BELOVED – def. 1. To hold one dear. 2. We humans are dear to God. 3. “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (God to Jesus in Matthew 3:17).

Something being dear to me means it is precious, requires gentle treatment, I give my full attention and brings me such joy – to not have what is beloved in my life would be an absolute black hole and to treat anything beloved harshly or cruel would break my heart.

I can easily name those I hold dear: my Nana (RIP), my niece/nephew and my best-friend’s children Alma and Ewan. My friend Gene, the lady at the end of the street and my dog, Stewie. My fellowship, my program, the NA’s who meet at my church and my Thursday night “squad.” The reality is that it often feels easier to give out to others than it does to give to myself.

Thinking of myself as “held dear” helps me to hold a sense of preciousness for myself, which affects my choices toward myself. Can we begin to cultivate within ourselves and for ourselves a posture of belovedness? Can you see yourself as precious, be gentle towards yourself, give yourself full attention and find what brings you joy? One way I’m doing this is to intentionally slow life down, take a few moments to breathe and check in with my body. What small step or change could you make today that would help you hold yourself as your own beloved?

I am still practicing everyday at loving myself, but I’m getting better at it.

Blog: A model to live by

Last week, I shared that I’ve felt called to incorporate the principals of the Harm Reduction philosophy into my pastoral calling and care for the people at Hope Recovery. In my post last week, I defined a model that I’m working on to further explain the process of creating an atmosphere of love, safety and belonging. Here’s a visual representation of that model:

Over the next weeks, I’ll continue to unpack this model. Many thanks for the folks who attend our Thursday night in-person gathering who lovingly and supportively continue to help me to develop this idea by share their ideas, give feedback and continue to ask questions for clarification.

For More Information on Faith and Harm Reduction see: SPIRIT OF HARM REDUCTION: A TOOLKIT FOR COMMUNITIES OF FAITH FACING OVERDOSE, published by Faith In Harm Reduction. (Read that here: https://harmreduction.org/issues/harm-reduction-basics/spirit-of-harm-reduction-a-toolkit-for-communities-of-faith-facing-overdose/)

Blog: Unpacking a Harm Reduction Theology

For some time, I’ve felt called to incorporate the principals of Harm Reduction in my pastoral calling at Hope Recovery as a way to inform and further define the work of creating an atmosphere of love, safety and belonging.

I’ve been studying the document SPIRIT OF HARM REDUCTION: A TOOLKIT FOR COMMUNITIES OF FAITH FACING OVERDOSE, published by Faith In Harm Reduction. (Read that here: https://harmreduction.org/issues/harm-reduction-basics/spirit-of-harm-reduction-a-toolkit-for-communities-of-faith-facing-overdose/)

This past week during our Thursday night gathering, I shared my ideas about a harm reduction theology that can be activated both towards our own selves, as well as lived out in service to others. Here are the building blocks of that theology (simply meaning: the study of the nature of God. In this case, cast through a lens of harm reduction.)

Our Commitment: We will live our lives from a place of openness for greater self/others acceptance. God, help me to give to myself and others the following:

To Host…

Beloved Community – being dearly loved and holding others dear

Sanctuary – a place of refuge, a place of safety

Gospel – truth as the guiding principle that is accessible to all people

(easily reached, communicated, adapted for understanding) 

To Offer…

Dignity – being worthy, honored, esteemed

Compassion – sympathetic of distress of others with a desire to work to serve them to alleviate it 

Love – devotion, loyalty, concern for the good of another. 

(God’s concern for God’s people, Love for the neighborhood of all humankind.)

To Work Toward…

Transformation – causing a marked change in someone or something

Reconciliation – restoration of friendly relationships

Reciprocity – exchanging of things for mutual benefit 

Liberation – being set free from imprisonment, slavery or oppression

We are all God’s children, cooperating together, nurturing one another and helping each other remember that God always provides a way.

This is only a beginning and I will begin unpacking each one of these elements in the following weeks.

– Meg

Ahead and Around

Twice a month, I meet online with a few other folks and we read poetry, journal and share how God might be speaking to us through the poetic words of others. For our time together, I create a powerpoint and always hope to find and choose the right photographs.

This week we read Ahead and Around by Laura Riding Jackson (see below). John Wade’s recent photos from Scotland proved to be an excellent visual for our poetry study. Notice in these pictures the vast gaps that lie in-between.

Looking at the first image, imagine if the left side of the land mass just one day decided to separate from the other side. The result would be futile. Think about these two sides of land trying with all their might to pull themselves apart. The earth might shake and quake a bit. For sure this rumble would tumble the afternoon tea from the table – braking long, passed-down, sipped-lipped dainty china tea cups that held generations of stories. Tears of loss and mourning would spring from the eyes of the host, in the losing of the precious pieces – so many lips that slurped and drank and chatted over scones. Broken into pieces would be the hope of serving more sweet ones who loved, liked and even licked sugar off fingers, fattened full on an afternoon of two-by-two happy conversation.

But, after all that shaking, all that willing and all that trying… the land would still be connected. Bound together in an unbreakable way. The nature of all things inseparably joined. The nature of the lands we live in is history, mystery, hope, promise, life-sustaining, grounding, giving, living and even dying.

This past week’s selection proved to be a fitting challenge for both my internal and external worlds.

With whom or what are you inseparably connected?

What is the personal cost to “pride along two paths” only to reach the same beginning and end?

Ahead and Around by Laura Riding Jackson

Ahead and Around
Met, quarreled, quilled the bird of peace,
Untidied a pleasant plane.
Ahead accused Around of complete deceit,
Around accused Ahead of being discontented.
Neither listened to each.
Either lined on,
Making round straight and straight round,
Permitting nothing in-between,
Licked space clean,
Fattened unhappily and flew
Along the geometrical faith of two-and-two,
Hated apart; and far and far
Each wanderer
Hoped toward a spiritually reconnoitered heaven.

“For,” cried sinuous Around,
“More and less than I, am I,
Nature of all things, all things the nature of me.”
Ahead echoed the cry.
Sped toward its own eternity

Of the sweet end before the bitter beyond, beyond.
And both were brave and both were strong,
And the ways of both were like and long,
And adventured freely in fettered song:
One that circled as it sang,
One that longitudinally rang.

The spite prospered. The spite stopped.
Both earned the same end differently,
Prided along two different paths,
Reached the same humility
Of an old-trodden start.
Birth is the beginning where all part.
Death is the beginning where they meet.

the scent of homelessness

In April of 2020, I resigned from my job in homeless services. My new career as a pastor has been wonderful, amazing and had its own challenges.  As I’ve settled into my new job and our new church location, I’ve been far from the downtown haunt that I once regularly traveled and far from engaging directly with our city’s homeless neighbors.

For the past two days, during the operation of pop-up, emergency shelter for persons experiencing homelessness in Wilmington, NC (now branded The Warming Shelter), I was reminded of my former role – all the emotions, frustrations and elations of working to serve persons experiencing homelessness returned. 

Yesterday morning as I readied the shelter for breakfast, it felt familiar (and appropriate) to yell at Max who continued to distract and razz me as I tried to keep up on the coffee pot for 40 slightly grumpy and sleepy-eyed folks who were not looking forward to stepping out into the cold sunshine. It was sweet to see Mike, but sad to recognize that familiar condition – how long-term drug-use has taken its toll. I gave God thanks that Mr. G is still alive, but I know he’s closer to death because of his chronic alcoholism – and how thin he’s become. And wondered why Jordan is still homeless… he seems so capable, kind and “normal.” I was glad that some of my former clients were absent from the shelter and happy to hear updates of how they had found a place to live or reunited with family (amen, amen). The familiar friends and faces were a bittersweet reunion – a homecoming of sorts.

And the new faces… the new faces… the new faces. So many unfamiliar and needy faces – scared faces, downtrodden faces. 

In our temporary shelter, there was kindness to be found in handing someone an extra blanket, setting up our buffet so that folks could serve themselves rather than “being fed” and joy in mini Moon Pies, a Coca-cola and the chance to sit and watch a movie from start to finish – warm, uninterrupted and safe.

I write this blog at exactly 1:51am because at 12:52am my phone rang and a woman named Edie was standing at the door to Trinity UMC wondering why The Warming Shelter was closed (temperatures have returned to the 40’s overnight). In her message she asked if there was anywhere she could go. Impossible to return to sleep when the old, familiar feelings of concern, care and curiosity of the homeless services caseworker immediately flooded my mind, emotions and body. With fresh coffee made at 1:30am, I found myself returning to a space of reflective prayer, wonder and lament where writing serves as a healing balm. “God, hear our prayers for our homeless community of Wilmington.”

I realize there are no easy answers. For two years I’ve been spared the deep sadness and emotion of homeless work as I’ve been working with the recovery community. Don’t get me wrong, there have been tragedies at Hope Recovery: overdoses, death, disappearing friends, people lost to darkness – it’s the way of the land in recovery. Working in a new field and in a different part of town, many of my homeless neighbors have been out of sight. 

This week, I was again reminded how homelessness work feels.

The desporation, the decompensation, the need for many solutions with scant resources… the trauma that brings people to where they are: dirty, drunk, drugged, dishonest, desporate, disrespectful – our very present and real disappearing faces who walk and live on our streets, who are overlooked, ignored and hoped to just go away. That nagging question of, “how did you wind up here? Why are you still out here?”  The heavy feeling of hopelessness that hangs in the air and smells like dirt, body odor and urine. The attempt to ignore the reality of the situation – to make light of anything to avoid the confession that you just don’t know how to really help. 

Dealing with our own feelings of insecurities, inadequacies, smallness and powerlessness when facing the hugeness of the issue. The lure to give up on the bigger problem and just go home, shut the door, eat Trader Joe’s ice cream and climb under a wam comforter with your dog beside you and thank God with a quiet gratitude, “at least all is well in my world.” The struggle to find harmony between two worlds that clash with so much dissonance. The way your work calls you back day after day with the determination to just do something to help facilitate change and somehow you find the energy to just not give up yet. 

It’s been a long time since I had the scent of homelessness in my nose (and my car) – a scent that captures God’s heart from the most marginalized – earthy as our fellow created-creatures and wanting of such simple basic needs: soap and hot water, warm food and shelter. It’s a scent one quickly grows to tolerate… and then a smell one loves in the strangest of ways. 

My confession: I actually resented being asked to help with The Warming Shelter this year, but yesterday, as I dropped a woman off at our local homeless shelter I felt grateful. Here was a senior lady who had shown up at our shelter on Tuesday night, just off a Greyhound from Jacksonville with nowhere to go. On Wednesday morning, as I chatted with her, I put my “case-manager hat” back on and was compelled to reach out to my peers for help. Within an hour (literally), we discovered she met criteria for a housing placement and our local shelter provided the resources for her to access the housing. We made a plan to transport and move her in that same afternoon. Last night she slept in her own bed in a safe and warm home. 

Yesterday, I told God that if I was taken in my sleep that very evening… it would be enough. That I had done good for this day. WE had made a small difference.

My request to you this morning is a personal and pastoral call for reflection today.

This week, I was reminded that in order to do my work well, I need to “touch” our neighbors. I implore all of us to get face-to-face with someone experiencing homelessness. Buy them a cup of coffee – simply ask them, “where did you grow up?” and listen to their story. Look deeply into their eyes beneath all their “noise” and see the humanity of our brothers and sisters. Foster hopelessness into the “hopes” in which we individually and collectively have access and power to. We can work together toward change, empowerment and bring our skills and creativity to the possibility to break cycles of homelessness – to help those who are in need. May it be so.

Rebuilding Lives via a Revolution – Five14

In spite of everything else going on around us in the world, the work on the local level keeps calling, people are still in need and the Spirit continues to move.

In the late fall, I was invited to a weekly meeting at Five14 Revolution – a ministry working to address the sexual exploitation and human trafficking of Wilmington women. Five14 offers case management-type services to help vunerable women leave the commercial sex industry and the support to begin rebuilding their lives.

Week after week, I’ve volunteered by sharing my recovery experience, voice and pastoral presence to an incredible group of women who desire to be made new and to leave their dark pasts behind them. Their desirous hearts crave renewal. Together we seeking ways to experience the freedom of God’s life-changing love. At our weekly meetings, we share our raw and honest stories in order to heal and then grow toward new ways of understanding and being. In our shared testimonies of broken (much of which begins in our childhoods) we find unity.

Some alarming stats: Trafficking is a $99 Billion dollar global industry where only .04% of victims are identified. A person can be sold for sex anywhere from 15 to 40 times in one night. More alarming is that exploitation is targeting the very young: Children as young as 11 years old are being recruited on social media sites, while 40% of children ages 4 to 8 have connected with a stranger on social media. I was alarmed to learn that trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world – it is EVERYWHERE… and it is evil. You can learn more statistics about human trafficking/exploitation here: https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=23329.

Exploitation and trafficking are an assault on the physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual parts of a person. 90% of victims have experienced childhood sexual abuse resulting in thoughts, feelings and beliefs about love and sex that are twisted and misaligned. In Wilmington, NC, drug abuse is common in 90% of women who either get hooked on drugs as a result of exploitation or turn to the commercial sex industry to feed a drug habit. For women experiencing poverty of homelessness, sex becomes a means to survive and get basic needs met. 

Due to so many factors, many women find themselves in dark pits of despair and hopelessness. On average, it takes five to seven engagements to build lasting trust that leads to choices that will end cycles of vulnerability. Then it takes consistent support, trusted partners and resources for months or even years (depending on the person’s past) in order for someone to rebuild their lives. This also includes a strong plan for recovery and network.

Recovery from addiction is a necessary component to help people break free of explotation, trafficking and working in the commercial sex industry. I have been focusing my volunteer hours at Five14 by helping women  learn and live out recovery principles, as they deal with their trauma. Together we are discovering an awakening that makes a way toward healing and offers direction that is rooted in a sense of belonging, guiding toward lives of purpose and usefulness. We are not what happened to us, and yet our stories can serve as testimonies of the power of God to recreate lives and resurrect the dead back to life. I am continuously amazed by the desirous hearts of the women of Five14 for healing and wholeness. May God continue to work among us. 

You can learn more about the mission of Five14 Revolution at www.five14revolution.com. Five14 is funded by the donations of private donors and small business. You can support their work through their website.

My first official act as a new pastor… a funeral.

Being a new church planter who is just in the beginning phases of church community development, I have yet to have the feeling of a “first Sunday,”  baptize a baby, or even hold the communion elements in my hands.  I confess that a few weeks ago, while we were on vacation in the Outer Banks with my sons and their girlfriends, I secretly hoped one of them might have said something crazy like, “Hey, let’s get married while we are here!” Wah-lah! It just so happens that I could have performed the service! But, my first official act as a new pastor will be a funeral for my friend Julius.

I met Julius in the large backyard of what was a make-shift support group meeting that had adapted their meeting-space due to covid-19 restrictions. The spacious yard accommodated the need to distance one from another, came equipped with a smoking fire pit that inherently stung your eyes and an outdoor outlet to set up the coffee maker. It was a good space for recovery people to gather every day to weather life’s challenges and maintain our sobriety. In the rain, we huddled under pop-up canopies as the water ran down our backs as we read from the literature. Dewey feet, heat and humidity were constant companions in this small group of folks who were committed to their recovery – showing up no matter what, seven days a week in rain or under sunshine.

The meeting was a small blessing in uneasy times. It was connection, life and hope to begin the day. The gathered group lifted one another as we navigated unknowns, fears and consequences (job loss) in those early pandemic days. Julius was the calm and present wisdom teacher – when he spoke, we all leaned in to listen. He was faithful in his attendance and more so, faithful in sharing his experience, strength and hope. Approachable, gentle, welcoming… he was the shining example of what we all hoped to become – a servant to God and to others who unselfishly offered his entire self to those in need. In the uncertainty, Julius was certain.

When Julius learned that I was starting a church for recovery folks, he was all in from go. Committed and contributing, he joined me in workshops, trainings and white-board exercises as we planned and dreamed the new congregation. Based on his expertise, I started Google Docs to capture the outreach efforts that were expressions of his passions and desires. He had begun making connections in the community and we planned for coffee dates with new friends after he had his surgery. Unfortunately, I will be having those coffee dates without him. 

Sadly, Julius recently died from complications following a routine surgery. When the text came in, “I have VERY bad news,” I knew the news – my heart sank. We are shocked, heartbroken and in mourning. I was asked to assist with his funeral. Certainly honored, I am wrestling with the curious bittersweetness of my new pastoral role and the duties one is called to as my own emotions intertwine with a grieving community. Over the past days, I have been interviewing those who knew Julius well. The stories are the same. I have been told many times, “What you saw, Meg is what he was.” Julius was…

Authentic. 

Kind. 

Gently-bold. 

Present. 

Loving. 

Accepting. 

Approachable. 

Safe. 

Brave. 

Serving. 

Hope Recovery Church has adopted Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine,” as our guiding mantra. At our last leadership meeting the church, we talked about what “genuine” meant to us. Julius was there, fully committed – having driven straight back from a funeral saying, “I’m not missing this – it’s important.” Together the team filled the white-board with words that expressed our heart’s desire to love others as God loves us in a real, raw and honest ways. To be genuine, to show genuine to help others experience genuine love. It was exciting, creative, electric – we were finally bonding, understanding and visioning together! What I did not know is that “genuine” was sitting in the room with us… and it would be our last time together with this incredible friend, teacher and saint. RIP friend Julius. May your spirit be our guiding force, holding hope over us for all who continue God’s work to be there for the addict who is still suffering.

Julius = GENUINE love