Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category


In the book the Five Love Languages, it talks about how partners can keep each other’s love tanks full by speaking their native language of love. Mine is “words of affirmation,” which as a single person, sometimes makes it a challenge to keep my own love tank full. To do this for myself, I would have to do daily affirmations like Stuart Smalley looking into a mirror on Saturday Night Live saying, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

In December, I was looking for that affirmation and suddenly found my love tank dangerously low. Kind of like when the oil light goes on in your car, you realize you need to take immediate action or the engine is gonna crack. The healing oil for my soul was a combination of things. Therapy, which was very helpful, spiritual direction which has been a gift from God for the past nine years, a truth-telling clergy covenant group, deeper expressions of prayer, and finally permission to say “enough.”

I realized that I was carrying to weight of the Church, not just the one that I serve but the Church (capital C church). Churches everywhere are declining and instead of growing in our faith and inviting people into loving relationships, we seem to be dealing with church decline like we are dealing with political problems – by taking aim at those who think differently about things and going to battle. Between the divisiveness of the last presidential election and the UMC’s division over human sexuality, lots of pastors are navigating some pretty rough seas. Adding to that a little codependency and workaholism, I realized that I was not living my best life.

Finally, I decided to let go of all of the responsibility for all of that and to dig deeper into my own experience of God, preach more authentic sermons, and to start dreaming about the life that I wanted.

Those dreams led me to a fantasy of living closer to my daughters, who have always kept me balanced and grounded, and my grandchildren, who bring me a great deal of joy. While I have been trying (and failing) to create community outside of the church, I have longed for more time with all of those faces that I love.

My prayers have been answered. In July, I will be serving Tuskawilla United Methodist Church, following a dynamic young pastor who has loved the congregation and laid a solid foundation for future growth. I am grateful to her for all she has done. I can’t wait to meet the people of the congregation.

One of the joys I left behind when I answered the call to ministry, was a close group of women that I had coffee with every month, affectionately known as the Starbucks Sisters. The coffee shop closest to my new church is that very Starbucks where we met.

So, I am moving again. Picking up my life, moving to a new home, a new church, meeting new people, and learning new things.

But this time, it feels like going home.


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A Dying Breed

One of the most powerful male influences in my life, after my dad, was my Uncle Donald. When I think about the person I aspire to be, it’s the qualities he possessed that have most deeply affected me.

He passed away this week at the age of 83 after a life well lived.

Even though he was my mom’s little brother, she always looked up to him for his wisdom and admired him for his love and gentleness.

Uncle Donald was a dairy farmer in Kentucky who taught me what a serious work ethic looked like. As a young adult, hearing about his schedule of rising at something like 4:30 every morning to milk the cows, then doing it all over again every evening, I once asked him what would happen if he was sick or just didn’t feel like getting up. He said, “You’d be surprised what you can do when you have to.” I understood those words later in life when I was a single mom.

Even though he tried to have kind of a tough guy image – this picture is about as close to a smile as I can find in pictures of him – he called me Heather Feather and had a quiet sense of humor. He was a kind man and treated his animals very well. In grad school I was so shocked to learn about how most of our milk is produced with the cruelty of factory farming, since my experience of dairy farming was Uncle Donalds lush farm where the cows lived a beautiful life.

In this era of men behaving badly and passing it off as locker room talk, Uncle Donald was the real deal. He was a man who could be strong, a hard worker, a tobacco-chewing-one-of-the-guys, but still be a loving husband and incredibly proud dad to his two daughters. Later in life, he found joy in being a grandpa. He knew how blessed he was to have his family and was truly content with the life he lived on the farm. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He would simply remain silent instead of gossiping or trash talking anyone.

When my brother was a young teenager and started to get into trouble with drugs and the wrong crowd, my mom sent him to spend the summer on the farm. She know that Donald would take him in like one of his own kids and that my brother would get a good dose of fresh air, hard work, my Aunt Anna’s amazing southern cooking, and a lot of love.

One day that summer, out on the farm, my brother was riding on top of some bales of hay that were being pulled by a tractor and fell flat on his back. I remember hearing about how Donald put him in the Chevy and drove 100 miles an hour to take him to the hospital. My brother was fine, just a little shaken up. I imagine that he will be one in the long line of people joyfully waiting to greet his uncle in heaven.

Sometimes when we lose our identity, we need to go back to our roots. I am really proud to have come from this family of solid Kentucky stock. I hope that my life reflects these values of love, family, and hard work that I learned over hash brown casserole and chocolate pie at family reunions, listening to the wise the words of my Uncle Donald.

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My word for 2019

It has sort of become a New Year’s thing to identify a theme word for the coming year. I like this better than making resolutions. It helps me point my feet in the right direction for the year without too many specifics. I may forget about this theme word a few weeks later, but that sense of charting the course seems to be a good practice anyway.

My word for 2019 is “abundance,” not so much in the sense of – hey I ate my collard greens on New Year’s day, so bring on the cash – but more of an awareness of the abundance already in my life and for that to be a collective gratitude among others.

I feel like there has been a lot of gaslighting in our society over the past few years. When we are constantly exposed to falsehoods, but are told that they are true or that the truth is all about perception or that there is such a thing as alternative facts, it has caused us to doubt our abilities in knowing how to make meaning of the events happening around us.

I have had quite a bit of anxiety about expressing thoughts or opinions, even ones I feel strongly about, since it hasn’t been perceived so much as self-expression, but instead an attack on someone else’s beliefs. In many cases, it has forced me to choose which people I will stand with, with the implication that this will make me stand against others. It is difficult to know how to live in harmony with people and also be authentic to who I am.

In this year, I am choosing to trust in the abundance of God’s grace to live into my calling and be myself. God has made us all to be different and it is possible to love generously, even as we share different perspectives. My views have changed as my experience has changed, but now I’m more comfortable living with the questions and walking through the mysteries, instead of feeling like I have to always have everything figured out.

I have some goals and expectations for myself this year, both in my personal life and in my work, but I hope to live into them with gentleness and in the fullness of God’s abundant love.

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The Decision to Be Happy

The Life Enrichment Center, Fruitland Park

This past weekend, I took some centering time at one of my favorite sacred spaces, on a personal clergy retreat, provided by Shade and Fresh Water, a ministry of the United Methodist Church that provides a transformative sanctuary for the restoration of body, mind, and spirit toward more abundant living. Not only is this retreat center a beautiful and peaceful setting, it also contains some markers of my personal growth.

This place is where I took my first official step in the ordination process with a call retreat in January  2011. One of the new friends I made that weekend is now my grandchildren’s pastor. This is a pretty cool journey. 

I spent time there on a personal retreat when I began serving in ministry full time. My soul kept getting pulled toward conflict. I was so busy trying to save the church that I didn’t take enough time to properly love the people who were there. This past weekend I spent some time in prayer trying to understand if I am making this same mistake over again. On my journey God continues to file away more of my rough edges.

There is a beautiful little chapel there where I enjoy times of silent centering prayer. I spent time there before my interview to be commissioned as a Provisional Elder in 2016 and then two years later before my interview for ordination. In the beginning, I wasn’t so sure about God’s wisdom in calling someone like me to be in ministry (too broken, too old), but I always appreciate the time to look back over the ways that God has equipped me for this work and to see how far I have come.

I  sometimes wonder why I let even the smallest criticism undermine everything that I have learned on this journey.  I went into the retreat feeling a little wounded by criticism (most often in the form of an email) and maybe even more by people who have wandered away from the church without a word. 

I read Bishop Carter’s book this weekend, called Embracing the Wideness. This book was like a healing balm for my soul. In it he talks about generous orthodoxy, which is characterized by grace. He says this:

“This grace is a broad, deep river, a wide reservoir of divine love, a fountain filled with blood that cleanses my unrighteousness and overcomes all my resistance and rebellion It is a grace greater than all my sin.”

I attended a funeral service on Saturday and was so blessed to hear two of my colleagues giving words of hope to family they have pastored and loved. People sometimes fear getting close to Methodist ministers, since they never know when we will be moved, but these two pastors were able to speak to the hearts of the family and the church because they have walked with them. They have truly been incarnational to the people they served. One of the things I love most about being a pastor is when people invite me into their lives.

Another book I read over the weekend was The Untethered Soul by by Michael Singer. In it he talks about the decision to be unconditionally happy. I realized how much I was basing my happiness on everyone around me also being happy. I’m going to stop doing that. I have made the decision to simply be happy. 

There is a lot of brokenness in the world today. Every day there are things that break my heart, but my gratitude list is longer than I have space for in my journals, I have blessings in my life beyond what I ever would have imagined ten years ago and my journey has the marks of a rich, deep expression of the beauty only God can make.

I can’t see any reason in the world not to live life to the fullest and give thanks every day for a beautiful life filled with amazing people and the most important work in the world. 

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Thirteen years ago I didn’t listen to Christian music. Well, that’s not totally true. I was a church choir director and listened to demo recordings of potential anthems, but none of that contemporary stuff. My religious experience was contained in a very carefully packed box containing what I liked and didn’t like in worship, and what I would and would not accept in a church. I made sure that my Sunday morning worship didn’t really leak out into the rest of my life. The result was that I was living on auto-pilot; a life with no defining purpose except to get through the day with as much comfort as possible. I don’t know if I even wondered if there was more, I just sort of drifted through life in a daze.

Thirteen years ago this week, a former student who had been in my inner circle of jazz band kids died unexpectedly at the age of 16. It was as if someone kicked me in the stomach and turned the lights off in my life. I found no help or comfort from inside my carefully curated religious box and wandered in a black fog for days.

On March 17, 2005, Staci Stephen’s witness, captured on video and brilliantly recorded in her daily journals, flipped the lights on for me. At her funeral service, when I heard about her life and her faith and the fulfillment she found in Jesus, I was done with the auto-pilot life. I was done with the darkness. I was ready to walk into the light.

I began listening to the Christian radio station, reading the Bible intensely, devouring books about heaven, attending multiple churches, and cornering pastors and trusted church elders with rapid fire questions about how God works in life and death. I began to find the truth that I was seeking. The soundtrack for this time in my life was the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me. I realized that there was abundant life outside of the box.

Today I saw the movie of the same name and it spoke loud and clear to me about a dissonance I have experienced since I decided to answer the call to ministry.  The movie tells about the life of the songwriter and his early disappointment in his career. The criticism from the record label reps was that the band was good and he was a good singer, but it just wasn’t genuine. They weren’t getting to the heart of what it’s all about. To do that you have to face your fear, walk into your pain instead of walking away from it. For the music to reach people, it has to come from a lived reality.

Over the past five years, I’ve had people complain to me that they don’t like new songs, that children in worship make too much noise, that we shouldn’t begin a new service, we shouldn’t sing music from black composers for black history month, that it was a bad idea to hold a healing service, that I should be condemning LGBTQ people from the pulpit, that the 50 year-old Sunday school curriculum doesn’t need to change, to stop preaching about discipleship, to not say that I’m divorced from the pulpit because it makes me look bad, that worship should be at 11 am not 9:30, that change is happening too quickly, that we need to cater to preferences of the older people in the congregation, and for heaven’s sake, don’t even think about moving the chairs in the Worship Center!

Here’s the dissonance I’m experiencing: NONE OF THAT STUFF IS OUR WITNESS!!

My life changed when a 16 year-old girl who died too soon, witnessed about how her life had been transformed. As a result, I got out of my carefully curated religious box and found joy and purpose that guides me every day.

I’ve been too sensitive to the criticism that comes with the territory of being a pastor of a congregation full of human beings. I’ve taken complaints personally, allowed my heart to be broken for the people who have stepped away from the church, and have constantly searched my conscience to see if I am operating out of false or self-serving motives. But I realize that I am falling into an old favorite of mine, codependence. I’m taking on their pain as if I could heal it.

I can’t.

But I know who can.  Today, the movie reminded me about the life changing power I experienced when I made the decision to walk in a genuine, authentic life in Jesus. No matter how much we’ve been hurt, no matter how hard it is to forgive, we can lean into a power that is so much greater. A power that can heal hearts, reconcile enemies, and make new anything or anyone we thought was beyond redemption.

I needed this movie today, especially during this anniversary week of Staci’s death. It reminded me that in every church I’ve served, there are people farther along the path, guiding me forward, just as there are some people still walking in darkness. It reminded me that even middle aged Christians like me can still be transformed by the power of a genuine witness. I’m grateful to Staci, who wanted a unique ministry and to her mother, Kristen for getting her story out there in the world.

To hear more about Staci’s amazing story, click here.

Also, go see the movie. Let me know what you think.

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Ash Wednesday is a time to remember our mortality and to enter into a time of repentance. This year, the day was punctuated with a graphic example of this brokenness in our world, the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

As a pastor, I want to say healing words to all who are hurting. As a prophet, I want to call out the responses that are preventing us from working together to solve this. I believe that our only way forward is to make peace with one another and take faithful steps together.

There has been a lot of criticism of offering thoughts and prayers. If our thoughts and prayers don’t lead to action, then they are certainly empty gestures, but before we dismiss this as a first step, what kind of thoughts and prayers can lead us faithfully to take action?

Lament – Before we jump in with our opinions, let us first honor the victims with deep prayers of lament. Our Bishop has asked us to read the names in worship on Sunday. Have you read each name and looked at each face, learned something about each person and celebrated who they were before their lives were cut short? You can read about them here.  We can also lament the other school shootings that have taken place this year. Sit with the pain and sadness of the loss of each person before moving on to a solution.

Repentance – Lent is a season to reflect on our own sin. How do each of us contribute to the violence in the world? Before posting something angry on social media that points a finger at someone else, have we taken some time in prayer to reflect on the anger in our own hearts? Jesus says that anyone angry with a brother or sister is committing murder (Matthew 5:21). In the safety of prayer, lay down your anger to God and let your heart be healed. More anger is like pouring gasoline on the fire.

Discernment – Before taking action, have we prayed about how God wants us to act? Have we allowed the Holy Spirit to lead us forward? What is God calling you to do? We know by now that social media debates do little to solve our problems. We also know that we can achieve much more when we work together. The United Methodist Church’s 2016 Book of Resolutions contains a call to end gun violence. Click here to read ways that you can join together with others to work toward the vision of shalom or God’s perfect peace.

Walk Faithfully – Pray for the courage to take whatever action God is calling you to take. Our political divisions have caused us to choose silence as a way of avoiding conflict. We have to care about our brothers and sister enough to enter into a thoughtful conversation together. We have to put our relationships above our political parties. Get out of the echo chamber and learn how to have loving and respectful conversations with people who have opinions that are different from your own. If we can find a middle ground in love, we can move forward.

I have seen what can happen when faithful people walk together for good. Let’s do that.

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The Person We All Want To Be

It’s a little late for New Year’s resolutions. Whatever I might have resolved, I’ve probably already blown it for the year anyway. Going into 2018, I realize two things about why this annual desire to be a better person fails:

  1. I try to do it all on my own.
  2. I focus more on what I want to stop doing than what I want to start.

I went to a celebration of life today for a woman who lived life as a gracious  example of how to be a better person. She was described as being determined, faithful, kind, fun, loving, and a true lady. Gwen Puryear was a member of Edge Memorial UMC, the church I served before moving to Fleming Island. Even though I haven’t stayed in touch, Gwen continued to send me birthday and Christmas cards. I got a card from her a few weeks ago, then learned this week that she had died suddenly of liver cancer. In her last days in hospice, she faced death with the same sense of peace and assurance that she had in life.

As churches are changing and we focus on reaching new people in new places, there is something very beautiful about the old established churches that have mature Christians with deep roots, who have lived through the many decades of a changing world. Gwen was always kind to me and supportive of my ministry. She was always looking for new ways to spread love and kindness to people around her.

As I think about the opportunities to grow in the new year, I recognize the importance of those who have been part of my journey. Some are in past chapters, where we may only connect with the random Facebook updates, but each one has contributed to my life and my character. Gwen meant a great deal to me and I’m not sure I realized how much until I heard that she had died.

I also want to live more fully into the relationships that are part of my current journey. There are beautiful people in my life right now. In this new year, I hope to more fully cherish our time together.

I usually have a theme word for the year. A colleague posted her word as “focus.” I’ve decided to co-opt her word and try to focus in on everything that has been a little blurry in the past year.

Gwen’s service today inspired me to connect more fully with the people around me and to begin doing those  things I have wanted to do, but have just not gotten around to doing. I love that Gwen could face the end of her life without any regrets, knowing that she allowed God to work through her to reflect God’s divine image, making her the truest version of herself.

A person who is faithful, determined, loving, and graceful is the person I want to be.


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