Tell everyone who is discouraged, be strong and don't be afraid! God is coming to your rescue!
~ Isaiah 35:4
Years ago I watched a friend of mine seek treatment for a rare kind of cancer. She successfully completed treatment, only to be cancer free, but then die from an opportunistic bacteria that invaded her body, weakened from cure. Her immune system was too weak to fight the bacteria, and she died. It was a struggle to watch, especially when she thought the worst was behind her.
It's very easy to let things become overwhelming when you find that what you had hoped for doesn't seem to appear in a way that you had wanted, or even prayed to receive.
I hear prayers for healing nearly each day as I visit my hospice patients. When the patient dies, and family members share how they prayed that the person would be healed, I remind them that "healing" takes place in many different ways.
I used to think that I would have a list of things that I would ask God when I arrived in heaven. Somehow thinking that I would have the opportunity to have a face to face with the great Creator of ALL things and for me to ask, "On this day, why didn't YOU do THIS?"
But we do things like that. I don't know if it is some way for us to understand why it is that something happens, or if, there is some way that we are holding God responsible for when things don't go the way that we had hoped.
The human condition is sometimes just what it sounds like, "conditional." We live in an imperfect world and we make poor choices at times. When it comes to our health, where we live, and even those we create relationships with. For every decision we make, there are often options. It's just the way that the world exists. Some how we must be the living Christ for others in this existence, while striving to understand when our own life situations may not turn out the way that we hoped.
I don't want to say that it totally depends on God, but our dependence on God helps us when things don't work out. So often we are quick to say that "It was just God's plan." It's an easy response to a much bigger picture that often we look at with limited vision.
Praying that each day we find ways to include God in all moments of our lives.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021 stayingodsgrip.com
"I am with you always, even unto the ends of the world."
~ Matthew 28:20
I spent a portion of last evening sitting in the hallway of a healthcare facility. As I did, I thought of the hallways, much like this one, that I have spent time in. For me, hospital and clinic hallways are sacred spaces, much like that of a pew in a church.
They are the places where messages are heard, prayers are lifted, and where stories of life and death are shared. Miracles are related, and relationships are created, while saying "hello" and "good bye."
I identify these hallways as sacred pathways.
I remember the beep of the 3 a.m. page awakening me while trying to sleep in a room that was tucked behind one of the chaplain offices on the top floor of the old Lutheran Pavilion at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center while completing my Clinical Pastoral Education nearly twenty years ago. Those beeps were often the prelude, that then would give way to prayer, even before I had arrived to the floor where I had been summoned.
At MDACC, every patient had cancer, and cancer didn't care if the person was old or young. I would often remind myself that cancer begins with one cell in the body that creates a new plan for itself.
Too often that "plan" would be associated with a God who seemed to be making plans for innocent, good people. I still cringe when I consider the theology of those who explain how the cancer is, "just part of God's plan," while staring into the eyes of the patient who then spends restless hours trying to figure out why the "One" who proclaims unconditional love allows for conditional cells to invade and destroy.
During my daughter's senior year of high school, she was part of a "Don't Drink and Drive" demonstration entitled, "Shattered Lives." Emily and I had agreed to be part of the project, but nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered as I entered the parking lot where broking cars holding broken bodies, would be on display to provide an illustration for the message they wanted to convey.
As I approached the scene, playing the role of clergy who had been called to the scene to render aid, I discovered that my own daughter was a fatality. I just remember staring at a lifeless body, covered in makeup that looked like bruising and blood. While I knew that it was a demonstration, something inside of me would not allow me to move. I watched as the funeral home arrived, with strangers taking her body, and placing her in a body bag. Just before the bag was completely closed, the instructor gave Emily permission to tell me that she was okay, as this demonstration was robbing me of my ability to breathe or speak.
The instructor followed me to the Hearst as Emily was rolled in on the stretcher. He placed an arm on my shoulder, once again sharing, "You know that she is okay?" I could feel the tears welling up within, and I had to touch the car that now held the body of my daughter that I would never hold again.
I try to draw from that day, as well as, the thousands of sacred encounters that I have experienced with patients and their families since.
I am reminded that those last words are lasting words, and that those last words are all that remain when the moment passes.
A few years ago, one of our hospice patients mouthed, "I love you," to his husband, after the last breath had left his body. As the life left his body, he was able to focus every bit of the energy that he had remaining to leave his husband with these three words. Although silent, the movement of his lips were noted by those who were present, and suddenly the sermon of this sacred moment had been spoken, and his husband had been given the words of the Benediction that he would carry forth for the rest of his life.
It is easy for my mind to begin to wander these hallways as the memories invite me to take a step towards a moment that I was invited to witness. Often I am reminded of the silence, rather than what is said. We forget that our presence also represents words that are often unable to find their way from our heart to our lips. When I have found the words to share, I never begin to ponder what the Creator may have planned, or why heaven was more deserving of a life of someone that a six-year-old loved so dearly.
In the summer prior to beginning my final year of seminary, I began my chaplain journey by completing my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Kentucky. As a student chaplain, I was responsible for the Cardiac Unit. This unit was the first place that reminded me that we can live without many things, but we cannot live without our heart.
It was the first place that taught me that insurance companies, guided by profit hungry executives, could offer to pay for the heart transplant of a father of two young children, but not pay the exorbitant price to precure the heart, and the image I encountered a few weeks later, as I held the hands of those two children as they cried because their father had died.
While this memory can still create the feelings of anger within me, I can also remember the tears I shed, as I peered through the glass at newborns sleeping in the Labor and Delivery Unit that was located just a few feet from the entrance of the Cardiac Unit.
As I sat last night in a hallway that reminded me of every healthcare facility I have wandered, I realized that this moment was for the Holy that resides within me. This moment was for me, and that God had not created some journey that would be guided by some eternal plan, but instead, would offer grace and mercy, as I continued on my way.
May we all discover sacred spaces that offer us an invitation to recognize the God that is in this place.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams, (c) 2021 www.stayingodsgrip.com
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
- Psalm 73: 16, 17
For a period of time following my illness a decade ago where I nearly died, I found I was just angry. Angry about some of the decisions I had made. I was angry about having no stamina for any amount of time. Angry that I had missed out on so many things, and how I had treated family on bad days. Angry that I felt abandoned.
The list goes on and on. I just couldn't seem to understand why life had changed. Poor Sully, my schnauzer, would listen to my rants, and then my complaints because we would walk a certain distance. I would want to turn around because I was exhausted and he would want to continue the walk.
A few days I would just sit down along the Bayou and surrender to him. I would tell him, "Just let me rest and we will walk to the next street then turn around."
During this time I would slowly surrender the anger to God's holiness. Those walks became more about praying for peace, strength, and understanding.
God's presence, and my relationship, turned from lashing out, to inward sanctuary.
It's true, we are indeed vessels for the living God. I learned that God has a difficult time residing in a vessel that seems to have no place for the love of God. It's a reality that I think all of us must eventually accept.
Over the years I have met people who are just simply bitter. I live in a world that is full of conditions and options. God didn't make me sick. I live in an imperfect world.
Remember in the movie "Bruce Almighty" when the main character Bruce says God is like a child with a magnifying glass pointed on ants as they come out of the ant hill. He then tells God to "smite him."
I know people who believe that this is the only relationship they can have with God.
God didn't give me cancer. God didn't cause me to lose my job. God didn't do many things. I live in an imperfect world. However, God had a plan to help me recover.
My life will never be what it WAS, but God has a plan for me TODAY and TOMORROW...
Remembering to enter God's sanctuary, which depends on me to make sure I remain open to God's love and plan for me simply makes all things possible, for ALL OF US!
Hope your day finds time to be an active vessel for God.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams, (c) 2021
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
~ 1 Samuel 3:10
Simon and Garfunkel in 1965 wrote a song that reflected on the, "Sounds of Silence." One of the things that I have had to adjust to over the years are the amazing number of hours that I sit in silence. As I drive from one patient home to the next, and even while I sit at bedside, the time that I spend in silence overwhelms the other hours of the day.
At first, I will admit, I was uncomfortable. Any time that our environment changes, there can be moments where it feels like somehow something, "might be," missing, or even for some, there will be attempts to recreate that which felt more "normal."
I can remember over ten years ago now, when my daughter left home and went off to college. It was the first time that I had lived by myself in over twenty years. I will admit, I really didn't know what to do. My four bedroom house that once teamed with activity, now was silent, and over the course of the next month, I was slated to move from this home to a smaller place in the city.
Our dog, which was my only companion on this journey, slept under my daughter's bed for three days, refusing to eat or go out, and all I could think was, "Emily has gone off to college, and now Sully (our dog), is going to die from heartbreak."
So, perhaps I was feeling a bit dramatic, but for a parent who is "empty-nesting" for the first time in two decades... well, you get the point.
I remember walking from room to room, in the silence, and making decisions on what to keep and what to give away. I couldn't listen to the radio, as I would hear a song playing that would open a memory, and I would find myself in a corner somewhere, drowning in my thoughts and tears.
I can look back now, since time has provided the distance that I needed in order to see what this big picture looked like, and I realize that this was a normal course in the life of my daughter and myself.
It was what I had hoped for in her life, and I simply hadn't thought far enough, or looked at the picture completely, to realize that my life would change as well.
Of course a year later, I was comfortable buying groceries for one, and even going to the movie theater by myself. It came with a period of change, and it took time, acceptance, and sometimes surrendering, in order to make it to the place where I needed to be.
One of the things that I have discovered about myself at this point in my life, after learning to live with this new silence, is that I actually long for these moments now. We are bombarded by noise from all types of sources. Our body has gotten used to the shock of a truck roaring by, or the train down the street. To the sound of a television simply turned on in the background, or the radio that simply remains on.
I am drawn to remember a young Samuel in scripture who seemed to hear everything, but the voice of God who was patiently, softly, and consistently, reaching out to him. Finally, one day in the silence, Samuel sensed the voice of God, and said, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."
You see, silence is something we need in our life for precisely these moments. For times when we are lost in the white noise of chaos. Where alarms sound, and our feet quickly make their way to the door. When the phone rings, or a text arrives, and we began to realize, "I can't even hear myself think."
The sounds of silence are always present. Like peace, that is what we tend to forget. It exists all the time around us. We just have to be willing to allow it in.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
To pre-order Todd's new book, "Remember Me When..." and save 20 percent, Click HERE!
Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life.
~ Deuteronomy 28:66
One of the hardest things that I have encountered in the last few months is recovering from COVID. While I am grateful that I did not end up in the hospital, I have struggled now for nearly two months with lingering issues that seem to have "changed me."
Let me first say that I am improving. The difficulty in all of this is that I have fallen away from my writing, have struggled with anxiety, as well as, finding a place of peace in my life so that I could find the words that I seem to forget or cannot rediscover in my mind.
On Saturday I attended a live performance of a musical. This is only the second time since the pandemic that I have been present to watch as so many many young people that I have known for the last few years, performed. While the pandemic has continued to remain the leading news article, I realized that life is continuing to go on all around me.
Many of the kids I saw are taller. A few have new voices, and a few I struggled to recognize behind masks that continue to cover faces. I focused on the eyes of a few youth and discovered that I knew who it was.
As I spend more time with my hospice patients at the bedside, especially those who have been in facilities, completely isolated from their families, I am discovering that there is something more to the pandemic experience that we have yet to discover. It is grief. Many have lost much over the last year. Jobs, family, and even close friends. Offices have closed, and several friends of mine have been told that they will never again return to an office filled with people, and instead, will continue to work virtually from dining room tables and newly created work spaces.
Grief is something that I have had some experience with while working as a hospice chaplain, but nothing has prepared me for the feelings of grief that seem to paralyze me at times as I struggle to understand them, work through them and not ignore how they "show up," at the most inconvenient times.
Someone asked me if I, "still cry?" I admitted that I "try not to, as I am afraid at this point I will not stop."
One of the things that I wish the Bible shared more of were the feelings of those who saw Jesus crucified, and then encountered him as the resurrected Christ. I wish that there were words to describe what it was like to have your faith, and everything that you were beginning to believe, overwhelmed by an experience that left them heartbroken, defeated, and uncertain.
While Jesus had shared of the "things that" he must experience, with the words, "so that the scriptures might be fulfilled," there were still those who had heard, but now struggle to understand.
It is the same for many who seek to find a light at the end of "some" tunnel, only to discover that the tunnel is an illusion, and that there is simply uncertainty.
I understand that God remains constant through each new day. I was always one who believed that God was the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but now I find myself asking God to be more. I struggle to encounter the God of yesterday when today my life is so very different.
It is not something new to me. I hear patients and their families share of finding, "unknown strength," and "understanding beyond anything I have ever encountered."
Followed by, "I know that God is helping me through this."
It is in these days that I find myself clinging to the "mysteries," of a God that has a resurrected Son who seeks for me to have grace and mercy, while restoring me to a place where I can once again "feel like," I once did.
But then I realize one important factor. I also cannot be the person that I once was. Not even the person I was yesterday, because we are moving closer to the greatest change that we will ever encounter. It is when we finally take our last breath and discover that Jesus has been with us every moment, of every day, of every encounter with this world.
In restrospect, I think that I needed this time of "wandering," to help me find my way to a new place that I need to be. While I will continue to grieve, along with many others, I hope that I begin to realize that this new place where I, and everyone else seem to be arriving, will still be a place of hope and love.
Stay in God's grip!
Rev. G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
~ from the 23rd Psalm
Someone asked me the other day if I could remember my "first" death? Over the years of serving as a pastor and chaplain, I have encountered death more times than I can even remember at this point.
The first person that I remember having "died," was my great grandfather, Clarence DeAtley. I remember the phone ringing at our home as we were up, getting ready for the day, and then my dad suddenly grabbing his coat and running out the door. I have a clear picture in my mind of my dad's face that morning. I hadn't thought about it until this moment, but my dad's face in my memory is much younger. It is a reminder that often moments, or life milestones, can seem to be encapsulated in our memory for a lifetime.
I can still see his car, pulling out from the alley beside our home, and the tailpipe of his car, blowing out gray smoke into the crisp, Indiana March air. I can still see my mom's face as she told me, "Papaw DeAtley died."
I still am not sure if I really understood what that meant. I loved my Papaw DeAtley, even though he was a much "different man," than the man he had been most of his life. His mind, confused, and so much of what he had been, replaced by a man who would sometimes get angry, but would welcome a great grandson to sit and share time with him while eating a fudge ice cream bar.
I remembered a man that would sit at the small table in a farmhouse kitchen that still contained the wood stove that once was used for cooking, and the 1940's gas stove that had replaced it. My great grandmother, turning on the broiler, and making toast with a little sorghum and butter. Occasionally, she would fix a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, adding to the flavor of the toast.
Hot tea would be steeping on the blue counter, and I would watch as she would add teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar, and then gently stir the mixture just prior to taking a sip. I can still remember watching her do the same thing with her iced tea, and watching as the granules of sugar would float in the mixture as she would take a drink.
I would watch as "Papaw DeAtley," would take the silverware from his place setting, and with the cloth napkin provided, would wipe down each utensil that he was about to use. To this day, I don't remember asking why he did that? I just remember that it was part of the routine at each meal.
"Papaw DeAtley died."
I was six months away from turning 7 years old. I had no idea really of what this meant, but that the news upset my both my mom and my dad.
The next thing I do remember is pulling into Myers Mortuary in Lebanon, IN, and my mom struggling with my coat. It was a cold day, and like to many late winters in Central and Northern Indiana, it is not unusual for there to be cold rain and sometimes ice.
The funeral home seemed dark to me. Heavy fabric draped windows, and organ music played over speakers that were sometimes filled with static, could be heard. I looked at the tall lamps that were in the front of the room next to what looked to be a shiny box, surrounded by flowers. I remember the ceiling, lined with small tiles that were plain white, illuminated by the lamps that seemed to make the room look pink with their light.
The first person I saw was my "Mamaw Williams," and I noticed the white handkerchief with a little embroidered blue flower with yellow dots, raised to her face, where she wiped tear after tear. She took my hand, and I could feel the moisture from the handkerchief, touching my hand, as I tried to pull away.
I felt the hands of someone that I do not remember, picking me up. The person was behind me, but I clearly remember seeing "Papaw DeAtley" laying in the box. He looked like he was sleeping, but he wasn't bothered by any of the people that were talking as they stood beside the box. I remember thinking, "Why is he asleep? I would love for him to ask for ice cream about now."
I'm unsure why I ended up sitting next to my Mamaw Williams as people sat down for the service. My head rested on her lap, and I can still feel how her belly shook as she cried. "You know he was my dad," she said to me.
I didn't realize then, but do now, that she was wanting to make sure that I knew this connection. It's hard to believe that it has been 16 years now since Mamaw Williams died, laying in another box, in the same room at Myers.
To this day I can still associate the name of the mortuary, with the smell of aged carpet, fragrant lilies, pink lighting, and the sound of a shoe shine machine that sat near the entrance, where men would step up, turn on a switch, and it would buff away any dirt or scratches.
I can still see Papaw DeAtley, Mamaw Williams, and a few other relatives and friends that have died over the years in that room that has changed over the years, but the location and reason for gathering has been the same. It is the place in my memory where death becomes a reality.
I am drawn to these memories as I encounter patient families when one of my hospice patients die. Sometimes, as I see young children encountering their first death and trying to understand, that six-year-old inner child in me, still wishes that the person would sit up and ask for ice cream.
Death is as much a part of life and breathing. It is the stark reality that none of us can escape. In my Christian faith, I understand that death is the gate that opens as we live fully into eternity. For me, I try to remind myself that I am already part of that eternity, that my death will be a mark on a timeline that has no ending, and that those early childhood memories will be only a memory, forgotten, as I encounter those who died before me.
I am not afraid to die, but like all of us, if truthful, the journey to that death will sometimes leave me anxious as I consider the path, and ask God to help me when it comes. Perhaps that is a reflection to be written for another day. In the meantime...
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
Pre-order Todd's new book, "Remember Me When..." at Chalice Press and receive a 20 percent discount.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
~ Galatians 5:22-23
I'm not sure that I realized "exactly," what was happening the day that I sat down with one of my hospice patients and she began asking me about "ways to talk," to her grandchildren about dying and death. I'm still not exactly sure what I was thinking a year later, with an envelop full of notes and a few pages with pictures, when I sat down with my friend, Ciara, who listened and said, "Sure," when I asked if she would be willing to take everything I gave her and to illustrate a few pages to give me an idea of what this "might look like," if I were to pursue this project as a book.
Two years later, after that first visit with my patient, Ciara and I are about to find that this "project of the heart," is about to be released as the first Children's book for a publishing company that is over 100 years old and one that has never published a book for children in their long history.
As I write my blog today, I realize that it has been over a month since I have taken the time to sit down and "actually," write about what has been happening. Behind the scenes there have been meetings with the Editor, a marketing team, and numerous texts between Ciara and myself.
I never knew that there was a scientifically created font that allows people with dyslexia to be able to read "more at ease," but I do now, as Ciara in her educational journey at SCAD in Savannah has learned, and is implementing it in our book.
As the marketing team met with us, we discovered that there is now a group of people who have fallen in love with our book, and how this will be such a wonderful "conversation starter," for grandparents everywhere for years to come.
For a moment, I stop writing and I think about the afternoon that I walked into Tony Carrol's office, a therapist who agreed to see a me, even though I didn't have insurance, but was suffering from a bought of depression that seemed to have paralyzed my life. I am overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, and wish that he were alive to see the lasting results. I remember Tony asking me to take a photo of something that brought me, "joy," into his office so that we could talk about what it was about the picture that seemed to speak to me.
I remember laughing as I took that first picture in. It was a photo of a bumper sticker I had seen on a car that said, "Save the Ta Ta's!" It was a bumper sticker about breast cancer awareness. While it was childish in nature, it was a photo that began to free me from my depression and started a journey that now has brought me to this place, as I moved from just taking a photo, to also writing about what it was that made me "feel" joy.
I think for any of us, finding our path in the world today, takes more than just looking for joy. Projects of our heart takes courage, and whether we realize it or not, someone to also believe in what we are doing.
I knew that Ciara was a gifted artist, but to "see" how she has brought this project to life is a "new joy," that I'm grateful to be experiencing.
I am reminded that God always seems to have something more for us. More joy. More opportunities. More, more, more...
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
~ Luke 15:2
Have you ever been embraced by arms that made you feel absolutely welcomed and safe?
As a child, I was blessed by the arms of family members that were open to me, and made me feel that way. However, no pair of arms made me feel that way more than the arms of my grandmother, Margaret "Mamaw" Wilkes.
Mamaw Wilkes was a person who paid attention to fine details. An artist, she sewed magnificent pieces, painted beautiful pictures, and offered a home of hospitality that any stranger would feel welcomed to visit. Even though it has been over 40 years since I last knew those arms, to this day, if I smell Jergen's hand lotion, I still think of her. Funny how our mind remembers.
There was something about running to greet her, her arms embracing, and the words, "I'm so glad to see you." I always believed and knew those words to be true, even when my own life was filled with uncertainty, struggles, and living with the choices that I had made as someone coming of age.
Lately I have been drawn to reread Henri Nouwen's book, "The Return of the Prodigal Son." I have been thinking a lot about where he shares of his own struggles in life, and that how sometimes we invite darkness into our lives just to "make God," prove that the light of God can overcome all darkness.
In many ways, the open arms of my grandmother were that light.
I have to believe that the son who returns home after making a mess of things in his life, was greeted and felt worth, even after all he had done and experienced.
For those of us who have experienced arms that embrace when we have known hurt, sadness, disappointment or failure; they are the very thing that doesn't just embrace our wounds, but they are healing.
I have been asked many times why I use the phrase, "Stay in God's grip!"
I guess it's because I want us each to know that embrace. To be reminded that when we experience the presence of the arms of God, that there is a sense of wholeness. When we hear the words, "I'm so glad to see you," we somehow take the things that the world has taught or told us, and relinquish the power that it seems to have over us. That in a moment, we see ourselves as God sees us and knows us to be.
It's knowing that everything will somehow be alright.
For me, it's not necessarily going out and making a mess of things, returning home to a party, and a disgruntled sibling. It is a story that we all can relate to. It's knowing arms that love, and hands that hold, when we need them most.
I'm thankful for the human hands that have held me, and the arms of God that are always open!
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
The picture with this post is of my sister, Laura Williams Barker, with my grandmother, Margaret Vivian Ross Wilkes and myself in 1978. This was the last visit that we shared with her as she died a few months later.
Be sure to watch for my new book coming out later this year, "Remember Me When..." being published by Chalice Press.
"But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little."
~ Luke 7:47b
Sometimes I wonder why it is that my soul can become so restless. My family will tell you that I am two very different people who juggle to be one. One is the person that struggles to make sure that the image that others see is one of a faithful follower, secure in his faith, and focused on the journey, while the other side of me is often weak, insecure and anxious, who fails miserably to make healthy choices for me life.
The painful reality is that I am both. At times one will overtake the other, and when the two are in conflict, I will often retreat, rather than facing what needs to be done, while failing to admit that the struggle is real.
I think that if we were all honest with ourselves, we all have things that we juggle. Some are just better at keeping everything moving in the air. I remember as a kid watching a man take a plate and place it on the top of a pole, spinning the plate, and then standing the pole straight up. The plate would remain safe as long as the speed was correct, and that it didn't begin to wobble. The man soon had a dozen plates, all spinning, entertaining the crowd. He then removed each one safely, and the audience cheered his accomplishment.
I don't have to attempt this to know that I am not someone who can spin plates on a pole. First, it is not something I feel like I am called to do. The other, for me, is that I know that the risk is too great, and the audience, or the world, will see a clumsy man, out of control, and destroying a perfectly good set of dishes.
Let's face it, sometimes life is just not easy. In many ways I know that both of the people that my family sees juggling, sometimes with the precision of the man who could spin plates with perfection, while sometimes seeing the man who literally destroys the set of plates, in reality is me.
While I struggle, I also realize there is a God who is present as well. That with the dawn of each new day, seems to say, "I believe in you..."
A God who knows me so well... all of me. A God, who like the father of the prodigal son, waits. A God, who looked at a shepherd boy and saw a king, knew. And a God, who took a man who didn't see the strength in his voice to free a people, pushed. Our God, who understands us better than we do ourselves...
I will admit, it is hard to share about the times when I struggle, but it certainly does not hold the same power it once did, when the struggle finds it's way into the light, and is met with love and those who have the courage to walk with you until you find a place that is safe.
Stay in God's grip!
God of the Current...
God of discovery and re-creation,
help me to know
that there will indeed be times of wandering,
but in my wandering
lead me to green meadows;
I understand that there are times of darkness
but while in that darkness,
I know that there will also be the dawn;
that in my heart
which seeks You
through my whole being
will begin to flow
washing over the valleys of my soul;
and that I will journey
wet from the experience
when again I find that I am wandering.
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
~ Mark 2:14
Years ago while living in Texas City, Texas, near the Galveston Bay, I would get up early some mornings and make my way to the Texas City Dike to watch as men with their nets would walk out onto sandbars that were only present at low tide, to try their luck.
So often, I would watch and marvel at the techniques many had developed. The sway of the net, the right turn of the body, and away, the net would be cast, opening for maximum coverage and hitting the water. Then I would watch as a rope would be pulled, tightening the net, and securing the bounty.
As I watched, I often would think about the fishermen that Jesus came upon, and with two words, "Follow me," the men left their fishing nets, empty, along the shoreline, leaving behind not just a way of life, but their families and everything that had been their life for a new journey.
The act of "following me," means that we are willing to surrender our current journey for one that is new. To "follow," means that we relinquish our illusion of being in control. In many ways, following Jesus means that we relinquish our small vision of who God is, for a greater understanding of what God is willing to do to be in relationship with us.
The incarnation, walking among the creation, and the power of that presence, simply saying two words, and the rest is "history." The gospel is given life, and in that life, the lives of even more people are changed.
When we come to the "Follow Me," moments in Jesus' ministry, I am reminded that it did not end with simple fishermen. No, it continued beyond the dusty roads that Jesus shared with the disciples, and even beyond the cross. These words can be found today on street corners, on buses, in hospital waiting rooms, and even while sitting in our car stuck in traffic. Our encounter with these words is as varied as each one of us.
To "follow," doesn't mean to no longer be who we "once were." While it is an invitation to relinquish the life that we once may have lived, that life "lived," is filled with many gifts, experiences and expressions that will then help with the journey. Our wounds, our gifts, and our experiences, will continue to be an important part of the journey. These are the very things that make it possible for each of us to follow, and to invite others to walk with us.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
"Be transformed by the renewing of your minds."
~ Romans 12:2
One thing is for sure, none of us could have planned for all the events that have taken place over the past year. As I am encountering more people who have had their initial COVID vaccine shot, I am begin to sense that there is a feeling of "hope."
Hope is definitely something that when it takes up residence in your life, things begin to look differently.
In many ways, I'm grateful that hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, or a list of successes. Hope is our willingness to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope seems to allow for us to see God's guiding hand, not just in gentle, sacred moments, but also in the shadows of uncertainty.
One thing is for sure, if someone would have asked the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" five years ago, I sure would have not responded, "Living through a pandemic."
If anything we have learned from the last year is that we hold lightly to dreams and fears, and that we must be open to receive each new day as a unique expression of God's love for each of us.
I remember a woman from one of my first congregations I served saying, "As long as there is life, there is hope." If anything the past year has taught us is this, "As long as there is life, there is hope."
This new sense of hope that I am encountering seems to be giving power to live in a new way, with new strength. It's not that our life has changed that much since yesterday, but there is this underlying understanding that at "some point, hope will prevail."
While the pandemic continues to be very real, the paradox of the expectation is that those who believe in tomorrow can better live today; those who expect joy to come out of sadness can discover the beginnings of a new life in the midst of the present condition.
It is important to have hope, and to Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2021
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
~ Luke 2:6 - 7
This morning I was greeted by photos of a friend of mine with her newborn grandson. The baby sleeping, nestled against the nap of her neck, along with the family dog sleeping just beyond the two, keeping watch, caused me to stop and realize the many things that were happening in this photo.
My friend lost her spouse to cancer just days within the time period that their daughter shared that she was pregnant. It was one of those moments where joy and pain were inseparable, and then to try to find the words to describe that feeling, impossible.
I had been present with them the night before her spouse died, and I remember what I saw. My friend, nestled up against her spouse, as soft music played. The dog, again, just within arms reach, sleeping, but yet alert to anyone entering the room. Their daughter, rolled up in a blanket, silently watching, and waiting for the last breath to finally come, while her husband slowly stroked her hair, and offered support.
Two images of the same family. Two images that describe significant chapters, and both offering the image of peace and love.
This is their first Christmas with all the changes that have happened this year. Again, there is the joy and the pain. I think in many ways the two are connected. If it were not for pain, would we recognize when joy arrives, and without joy, would we ever move from beyond the pain?
The photo this morning also reminded me of the first Christmas that I experienced after the birth of our daughter. While she had been born at Eastertime, that first Christmas just seemed to be extra special. Somehow I could suddenly relate to an infant story that was part of my own experience. The feelings that I had about keeping her safe, doing anything I could to ensure that her needs were met, and knowing what it felt like to hold within my arms one of the most amazing gifts I have ever encountered in my life.
Somehow it impacted my faith in a way that I suddenly realized that the only true way for God to be truly with "us," was that God had to come to us incarnate as an infant. How else could we truly trust God? God came to us in the truest form of vulnerability, as an infant.
The infant sleeping on the chest of my friend did more than just bring comfort, he also has brought healing. The infant born in the darkness of the barn, nestled against the chest of a young Hebrew woman, brought hope. The infant that we celebrate this season reminds us that beyond all the pain that we may experience, that there will once again be joy.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
"A human being is a vessel that God has built for Himself and filled with His inspiration so that His works are perfected in it."
~ Hildegard of Bingen
It's a sunny, but cool morning here along the Gulf. The cold front that moved in earlier this week, managed to take with it most of the remaining colors of summer and fall, and now I find in the brisk air, a moment of rest.
As I rounded the patio to survey a few of my potted plants, I noticed nestled, in the petals of one of my daisies, a small, but significant gathering of water. Water always amazes me how it gathers light, reflects colors, but yet, is transparent. This drop is vulnerable. It depends on the strength of the petals, the coolness of the morning that prevents it from evaporating, and the calmness of the air, that won't disturb where lays.
In many ways, it has been provided the perfect vessel.
Interesting how perfect vessels work. They are often overlooked, and many times, even they do not recognize their gifts or strengths.
A young boy gathers five stones from a brook, and finds himself face to face with a giant. Just one of those stones was all that he needed to bring the giant crashing down.
A father yells to his servants to prepare a meal because the son that was once gone has returned home, and he opens his arms, a vessel of grace and forgiveness, and welcomes him home.
A Hebrew girl is visited by an angel who tells her that God has found her to be the perfect vessel for the Word to become flesh.
All too often we forget that we are among God's most important vessels God has ever created. We fail to listen to what God is encouraging us to do because another voice is telling us that we lack the ability. Our voice, a vessel that can offer hope, and words of encouragement, stops short of finding the words, just because we somehow believe that we cannot make a difference. Or the most important vessel, God's son, who was, perhaps, the greatest vessel provided to us, made of the Divine and dust. Both sacred and human. The perfect vessel for a creation that seems to have forgotten that it carries within itself the very breath of its Creator.
David was the perfect vessel to restore a people. The father was the perfect vessel to welcome home his prodigal son. Mary was the perfect vessel to bring forth the incarnation, Jesus. And Jesus, of course, is the vessel that carries the reminder of a God who still loves you unconditionally and never forgets your worth as a vessel.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
~ Matthew 2:1-2
It has been several years now since I took this photo of my son and daughter as we made our way across the Houston Ship Channel on the ferry late one night a few days after Christmas. We had gone to New Orleans following the final Christmas Service at the church I was serving. Along with my dad, the kids and I enjoyed walking historic streets, eating beignets covered in powdered sugar, and simply relaxing. On the last part of our journey, we took the ferry from Bolivar to Galveston, where we would then just drive across the Causeway Bridge and be home.
The night was dark, with no moon. The waves lapped at the boat as we made our way, and the lights from the refineries along the Galveston Bay reflected along the water's edge. My children stood at the front of the boat as the December wind rushed past their faces. I just remember standing, watching, and realizing I was experiencing one of the last trips that we would take, just us. Brad would have a son in the next two years, and Emily, was already in college with checklists before her as she made her way towards her degree.
I'm not sure where my dad was. I think walking the boat after having driven for nearly five hours. No doubt, surveying the way the vehicles had been loaded.
I look at this photo now and I think back to when I was so sick just over a decade ago, being told that I could die. While I prayed for God's healing, I also remember asking God to allow me to watch my daughter fall in love for the first time, and for my son to grow into a man. Funny how I look at this picture and I also realize answered prayer.
The season of Advent always seems to catch me, staring off in the distance, like my kids on the boat that night. Staring into a night that is dark, filled with unknowns, but yet, given passage to the exact spot I need to arrive at each time. I wish that I could say that I always trusted. That I am always faithful, never doubting. I'm thankful these moments are often short-lived, or are overshadowed by other things.
I look at this photo and remember being a kid growing up in Owen County, Indiana, standing just above the tassels of a September corn field, wondering what the next season would bring, while also feeling the need to wander.
About this time I imagine Mary, looking at her belly, feeling the child within, and staring into a night sky, remembered how she glorified God with her song with the announcement that she would be with child, while perhaps already feeling the first twitches of labor as the darkness of night surrounds her, now feeling unsure as the reality of childbirth drifts into her mind.
I have to wonder about the Magi, who were already watching the night sky, noting peculiar changes. The first twinkles of a star that would soon overtake the darkness, and serve as a guide as they walked dusty roads, lighting each step of the journey.
Once finding the newborn, the Magi were then told to travel back a different way. Joseph and Mary would once again go into the night's darkness as well, as they became refugees in the land of Egypt, carrying a son that was only days old.
Following one's heart is nothing new. Although the star of Bethlehem is said to have shone bright and provided the way, for those living today, we look to the sky, and for many, only see darkness. As I think about that night on the ferry, I realize now that my grown children have become the embodiment of the dreams they were having as they stared into that cold dark night.
We have become the indwelling light of Christ in a world that has seen some dark days.
Seeking to find the Christ child in each of us is something we all know about. It is a journey. It's arriving safely and opening the door to find hospitality and love. It's the feeling of being hugged after a long journey by those who have waited to greet you.
As this season of Advent continues, may we remember that some are still staring into a dark, night sky. For all of us, Advent isn't just a period of waiting. It is a journey. May we all seek and discover....
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1
As I walked outside this morning to let the dogs out, I could see among my flowers the effect of the freeze that we had along the Gulf the other night. Where the foliage was exposed, frost had settled in the early hours of the morning. Someone had asked me if I was going to cover my flowers earlier in the day, and I really had not thought any more about it until I had woken up the next morning and noticed the blanket of frost covering everything in sight.
Unlike my youth, when walking out into the grass on that first morning with frost, where the grass would crackle under my feet and I would take in deep breathes of air to produce a foggy cloud to celebrate the cold morning, I knew that this would turn the leaves of my tropical plants black, and the last of summer flowers would succumb to the seasonal change.
As I took this photo this morning, thinking about the zinnia that once celebrated the summer sun, I found myself thinking of all the people I have met who have been told that they too, would succumb to a season that they could not avoid. We are like the flowers. We do everything that we can to avoid the season that we know that will arrive, and overtake everything that we once knew.
The person who wrote Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is, "A season for all things."
As I look at the fading flower, I think to myself, "Had you just covered this flower, it would still be okay," but then I remind myself, "At some point, this flower will fade away, and I will still be left with a flower that has died."
But then I realize the deeper truth. Because this flower has lived, I now have the seeds to plant in the spring, to offer up more flowers next year.
Because this flower has lived, I will again have flowers next spring.
This flower still matters.
So much of the time I have to remind my hospice patients and their families that they are still living, even when they are facing a life-limiting illness. The act of dying will always include life. Even as I look at the fading flower, I am moved by the beauty that it still holds. It draws me in, to look, and to reflect. The fading flower makes me realize the seasons that I have lived, the current season I am experiencing, and to know that even if I am touched by something that causes me to begin my final season, that I will remember that I am still alive, and that my life has meaning, even to those who watch and witness as I surrender to the season that I cannot avoid.
This morning I am reminded that even the fading flower has beauty, and I am grateful.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.