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We are builders

An elderly carpenter is eager to retire. He tells his employer (a very well-respected contractor) of his plans to leave the house-building business. He wishes to live a more leisurely life with his wife and extended family. He knows he will miss the paycheck, but it’s kick-back time and he needs to retire. And his family will get by. “I’ve hammered enough nails in one lifetime,” he tells his employer, with a laugh. There’s no need to put myself out any longer, he tells himself. The contractor is very sorry to see his best carpenter go, and asks this, “Would you be willing to oversee the building of just one more house, as a personal favor to me?”
Hesitant, the carpenter says yes. In a short time, it becomes easy to see that his heart is not in his work. No surprise that he resorts to substandard workmanship and uses inferior materials. It is an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
When the carpenter finishes his work the employer comes to inspect the house. The contractor hands the front door key to the carpenter.
“This is my gift to you,” he says. “This is your house.”
Most of us have been there. Holding those keys. And this is certain: it never helps slip sliding down the if-only-stream. We know where that takes us.
In my memory I’m back in southern Michigan, the son of a brick mason. I’ve been on countless constructions sites. Most of them as a hod carrier (mixing mortar, lugging bricks). So many days eager to quit. And hearing my Father’s words, “Son, build this one like you’re building your own.” (Twenty-four years ago, my Father helped me build my house on Vashon Island.)

We forget, or we do not see, that we make a difference, with every nail we hammer, each board we choose, each brick we mortar, each window we put in place.
And here’s the deal: because we live in a culture of bluster and ado, we forget that we can make a difference. So. More often than not, the wrong people get all the attention. (Okay, my confession, I forget that I can make a difference, one nail at a time.)
I’m with David Orr here, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
Here’s to the restorative power of small gestures… one nail at a time.
We are, all of us, builders.
We are, all of us, about the business of building places and spaces for human dignity and inclusion, and kindness and compassion, and justice and hope. For resilience and confidence and courage and safety and wellbeing. But this is important. This parable is not meant to scold us into making a difference. It’s a recognition that we have been created and are able to do so. This is not about bootstraps and will power and consternation. This is about letting the language of our (replenished and not overwhelmed) heart speak. Letting the light inside—the Imago Dei—spill.
When I live from overwhelmed, I react, I live fearful, I give in to cynicism. No wonder the first to go are my courage, and my ability to laugh. Which is not good considering that they both come from the same muscle in our heart.

As builders, this is abundantly clear: We are connected. Every single one of us.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality,” Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us.
Receiving his induction into TV’s Hall of Fame, Fred Rogers tells the audience, “We are chosen to be servants, it doesn’t matter what our particular job.”

Writing this on the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m replaying the memory. It was a Saturday morning during a Pilgrimage (to walk the Selma Bridge), and I stood in the kitchen of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage, the home to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family from 1954 to 1960. By the time the Montgomery bus strike was achieving both success and national attention, Dr. King began receiving telephone death threats (as many as 40 a day).
“One night very late around midnight—and you can have some strange experiences at midnight—the telephone rang.” Dr. King relates the story in a later sermon. “On the other end was an ugly voice.”
“For some reason, it got to me. I was weak. Sometimes, I feel discouraged… You can’t call on Daddy anymore. You could only call on the Something your Daddy told you about, that Power that can make a way out of no way.”
And at that kitchen table, he prayed. “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right… But I must confess… I’m losing my courage.”
King explained what happened next: “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.'”
“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman
When we know that the light is here, now, we embrace the permission to be present. Where we are grounded, we pause. We say thank you. We will see beauty in places we didn’t expect, and we are gifted with surprises of grace. We will see craziness and pain, yes, but now we have the permission to engage, instead of resign. To care. To spill light. To build (yes, to “hammer nails”) even in small ways… to spill compassion, forgiveness, second changes, understanding. MLK’s reminder, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
Yes. This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it shine.

Some choose to see today as another day for banks and the Post Office to be closed.
But what if, it’s a good day to pause. And remember the gift of epiphanies… and the permission to be builders. And to let the light of mercy and compassion and healing be rekindled. I think it’s something we could use. I know it’s something I could use.

Winter storms continue to pummel much of the U.S., Canada and Europe. I hope you are staying warm. And checking in those who may need support.
This notice made me smile big, “If you rarely drive on snow, just pretend you’re taking your grandma to church. There’s a platter of biscuits and 2 gallons of sweet tea in glass jars in the back seat. She’s wearing a new dress and holding a crock pot full of gravy.”

Quote for our week…
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.   


Today’s Photo Credit: “Hello, Terry–Thank you for sharing your words of hope with me and everyone you touch. I took this photo of the sun rising in Cape Hatteras, NC, and it reminds me to remain hopeful and faithful, even when (and especially when) cross-like moments or seasons occur in my life. Thank you again for your inspiring presence and ministry.” Michael Citrini (Raleigh, NC)… Thank you Michael… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to 

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Letters that do my heart good…
–When I graduated from high school in 1958, one day I got to drive my Mom’s car. A girlfriend left her Prayer Book on the back seat. When I picked it up, a piece of paper fell out and had this poem on it. I’ve said it every day since; Remember Me
Remember me O God when I am troubled in my heart,
And when it seems that You and I are sort of far apart.
When I am feeling lonely and and discouraged over strife,
And everything is difficult according to this life.
Remember me and help me, Lord, for I am weak and frail.
And when my lamp of faith goes out I falter and I fail.
I want to walk beside You and to hold Your greeting hand
Because there are so many things I do not understand.
I love you God with all my soul wherever I may be
And humbly I petition You, Oh Lord, please, remember me.
Thank You, Lord.
–Thank you, Terry, for your consistent presence in my life. This Christmas I am struggling through the after effects of a stroke, which has left me with vision issues. Reading, writing, and general mental processing are difficult. Your message on this holy day warmed my heart and restores my hope. Thank you. Helen
–The timing of this message gave me cold chills! For twenty plus years a word would start popping up & that would be the word of the year. This years word is grace! I’ve been reading to try to understand what grace is. You explained it nicely. Thanks Terry, Luanne
–Grace, thanks Terry, for reminding us that grace abounds and welcomes the weary and calms the jittery. We can all weather the storms if we make sure our table is long, and as your grandmother said- all are welcome. Great photo memory! Sheila
–Such a perfect meditation for today, in poem and song.  Thanks for gathering such wisdom and sharing it with all of us.  Sent all my theology books to a book sale. Felt really good. Resting in the “gentle arms and hands of grace”.  It is enough. Vicki


“Martin Luther King, Jr.”
A man went forth with gifts.
He was a prose poem.
He was a tragic grace.
He was a warm music.
He tried to heal the vivid volcanoes.
His ashes are
reading the world.
His Dream still wishes to anoint
the barricades of faith and of control.
His word still burns the center of the sun
above the thousands and the
hundred thousands.
The word was Justice. It was spoken.
So it shall be spoken.
So it shall be done.
Gwendolyn Brooks

Thanks for Everyday Blessings
Dear God,
Open my eyes to the beauty of this day.
The yellow of an egg yolk in a blue bowl.
The scent of bacon frying in the pan.
The soft caress of the morning breeze.
The sound of children at play.
Awaken my senses.
Let me see, hear, and feel the beauty around me.
And be aware of the presence of the Great Artist in my everyday world.
William Webber

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