Archive for March, 2011

REPRINTED in Loving Memory

Jack A. Smith – March 12, 1922 to March 29, 2011

Rest In Peace, My Amazing Pa


Written by Sharon (Smith) Tankersley for her Pa – Jack Smith
On the occasion of his 85th birthday – March 12, 2007

1. He loves my Father in Heaven.
2. His face never fails to light up when he sees me coming.
3. He would always let me sit on his lap and snuggle as a little girl – even when I was not so little anymore!
4. He knows how to make me feel special.
5. He has smiling eyes that crinkle up in the corners when he laughs.
6. He’s tall and broad and fair-haired.
7. Everyone says I look like him. I think so, too!
8. Everyone says my dad looks like him, too.
9. It feels nice to see the family resemblance – somehow it means that I automatically ‘belong.’
10. Pa helped me feel comfortable in my own skin, even when I was taller than the other girls, and gangly.
11. He made me feel beautiful – on the inside and out.
12. He’s never still for long; always busy doing something worthwhile to serve others.
13. He set an example for me of what it means to be a devoted member of a church family.
14. He loves God’s children and tries to make sure they have what they need in life.
15. He has always taken care of the elderly, including his own aging mother.
16. He told me stories from his childhood.
17. He was a really good storyteller.
18. He spent time with me out in his garden, teaching me about growing vegetables.
19. He’d let me help him pick and shell pecans, even when my little hands could barely do the job.
20. He gave my summertime babysitter – also a student in his college class – money to take me to Baskin Robbins because “I’d been a good girl that day.”

21. Sometimes he took me swimming at the beach and let me be a silly, carefree kid.
22. After swimming at the beach, he’d buy me a rainbow colored snow cone.
23. For years he drove a faded and cranky old pickup truck and I never once heard him complain about it.
24. He wears a wide-brimmed straw hat and looks like a friendly, happy scarecrow.
25. Everyone in town knows my pa and has good things to say about him.
26. He gets along well with people of all ages – small children, on up to college students and the elderly.
27. He visited many interesting places, sharing the gospel around the world.
28. He took lots of great photos of his mission trips and would show us the slides, so that it was like we were there with him on those trips.
29. He is a very brilliant and educated man, but he’s still able to explain and teach me things in a simple, easy to understand way.
30. Even though he obtained several higher degrees and traveled the world, he never forgot his roots.
31. He always remembers my birthday and sends me a card.
32. He helps me to understand my dad better.
33. He has always tried to see the other person’s point of view.
34. He has intentionally continued to learn new things, like the computer.
35. Though most folks his age don’t want anything to do with the internet, he uses email just as easily as I do.
36. It’s always easy to keep in touch with him through email.
37. Though he has strong opinions on religious and political matters, he makes an effort to understand other points of view.
38. He respects quiet, and is perfectly comfortable sitting in a room with me for a long time not saying a word.
39. Whenever we sit in silence together, we are still communicating important things like love and acceptance.

40. He loves spending time with his wife – my grandmommy.
41. He treats my grandmommy with dignity and respect.
42. He takes really good care of my grandmommy.
43. My grandmommy is his best friend, next to Jesus.
44. I love to hear him say prayers out loud.
45. He has a nice singing voice.
46. He enjoys singing praises in church.
47. He is a strong and natural leader.
48. He’s never been too shy or too selfish to share his strengths in service to God’s people.
49. He is well-thought of by those around him.
50. He has never stopped reading books.
51. Learning is a very important part of life to him.
52. He set an example to me about the value of a good education.
53. He was always proud of me when I worked hard in school.
54. He was patient with me whenever I was struggling to understand something in school.
55. He helped me understand difficult concepts I was trying to learn in school.
56. He made me feel like I was smart enough to pursue a college degree.
57. He makes me feel smart when we have intellectual conversations.
58. He always treats me with respect.
59. I know from his actions and his words that he is proud of me.
60. He has supported me through many difficult choices in my adult life.
61. He likes my husband and is respectful of him.
62. He and my grandmommy were ‘there with bells on’ for our wedding many years ago, even though it meant traveling across country.
63. I love to take out our wedding photos and see my Pa’s face there among the guests.
64. He readily accepted my husband into the family and considers him to be his grandson.
65. He has been our champion through the various educational and career choices we’ve made in our marriage.
66. He encourages me to be a strong and supportive wife.
67. He expects me to remain a committed Christian.
68. I know that he prays for us every single day.
69. He likes to hear about the various ways I serve God in my local community.
70. He gives good advice about how to handle difficult situations and people in my life.
71. He allows me to have my own opinions about anything and everything.
72. He reacts to things I say and thoughts I share as though he thinks I am the most brilliant woman in the world.
73. I feel smart when I’m with him.
74. I think he’s a very funny man, and he thinks I’m very funny, too.
75. He laughs at my jokes and teases with me.
76. I feel funny and intelligent and quick-witted when I’m with him.
77. He understands me well, and always has, without me having to do much explaining.
78. We are connected in a way that defies explanation, because we are similar in some important ways.
79. Because we are so similar, we just sort of ‘get’ each other, which somewhat mystifies those around us at times.
80. I owe much of my sense of self, my self confidence and self esteem, to the way that my Pa has always loved and accepted and appreciated me.
81. He loves me for ME, not for what I can do for him.
82. He has never failed to be a reflection to me of the constant and easy way that Christ loves me.
83. Because of his love I feel strong.
84. Because of his love I’ve been able to get a glimpse of God’s love.
85. He is my Pa, and I am his Shari – enough said!


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Can You Hear Me Now?

I am somewhat hesitant to admit that at 41 I am already losing some of my hearing. Many times I have to use the closed-captioning or subtitles when I am watching TV or DVDs. I guess you could blame too many high school and college years playing in garage bands with our amps turned up to 11. (If you just laughed, you are probably a Spinal Tap fan.) Or maybe it is attributed to headphones blasting out the sweet melodious tones of 80’s hair bands. Either way, it’s getting to be a pain.

It’s not that I’m going deaf, per se, it’s really a loss of hearing clarity. I know something’s being said or played, but I’m beginning to miss the finer points of what I’m listening to. I find that I have to literally turn towards Sharon to really hear her, and most times I even have to watch her lips to help me know what’s she’s saying.

Which brings us to our word study for this week, shema. You may recognize this word because it the beginning of one of the most pivotal passages in the Old Testament. In Hebrew we see: Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad. The words we know from Deuteronomy 6 are: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  Shema, the Hebrew word for “hear” is the name of this all-important prayer that Jesus would have prayed, and that observant Jews have prayed each morning and evening throughout time.

“Hear.”  What a simple word. But in its Hebrew usage, shema holds more gravitas than what we normally give to the idea of “hearing”. Most of us would agree that there is a serious difference between the ideas of “hearing” and “listening”. The main difference is the idea of action, and that is exactly what shema brings to the table.

When Moses says “Shema Israel!“, he is in essence admonishing the Israelites to “Listen up! This is how you should act!” Any parent out there knows that when the question is asked “Weren’t you listening?”, not only hearing, but action was required!  This idea is also connected with James’ charge to not be “listeners only” but to be “doers” of what the Word says.

But, what does this have to do with Lent?

Ask most anyone (Christian or non-Christian) what they know about Lent, and the answer you’ll get will probably be something like, “It’s the time of year people give up stuff.” That’s what Lent is known for. To be honest, until about two years ago, I would have given the same type of answer if I was asked.  But that’s not the point…

The point is shema. The point is pushing everything out of the way for a period of time in order to hear…

To hear the quiet that focus brings. To hear the needs of those who live in your neighborhood. To hear the suffering of the world around you.  To hear the emptiness that distance from God brings to your life.

To hear His voice calmly calling you back,  and then to do something about it.

The majority of our year is filled with noise that turns our ears away from God. It destroys the clarity with which we pick out the subtlety of His loving voice. Lent blocks out the noise – by blocking the voices of TV, or chocolate, or caffeine, or…whatever we “give up” for this period of time.

So, Lent is about hearing – but it’s also about doing. We’ll hit that next time!

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Today is Ash Wednesday, and with it comes a new series of thoughts for the Lenten season. I’ve been wanting to blog this series based on several words found in Hebrew scripture, and Lent is a perfect time to do so. If you are from a faith background that does not observe Lent, then you’re probably wondering what all this fuss has to do with the leftovers in your clothes dryer. (Yes, yes, I hear your groans. I promise no more liturgical humor.) So, a small background is in order.

Lent is the season, according to Christian tradition, of the liturgical calendar that leads from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. It is typically observed as a time of sacrifice and preparation for the Christian. This is done through prayer, fasting, repentance, etc. In most traditions it is 40 days in length. Books could be written on the significance and observance of the Lenten season, but that gives you an idea of what your liturgical brothers and sisters are talking about. On to our study.

Today’s word is kavanah. In Hebrew it means “intention” or “direction” – I think you could also use a buzzword of today’s culture “focus”. As we begin the Lenten season today, it is with a sense of kavanah that we enter this time. Like so many aspects of our Christian life, Lent is seen by many observers as just the period of time that we have to get through. Once we deal with the 40 days of Lent, we can celebrate Easter. To me, this sounds like when I had to eat my broccoli in order to have my dessert. However, Lent is so much more, and the idea of kavanah helps us to see the beauty of this time of self-denial.

One of the things I’ve never understood about the liturgical branches of Christianity is the constant repetition of defined prayers, sometimes even at prescribed times of day. (Think the Our Father, Hail Mary, etc. If you don’t know what these are, then shame on you – go look them up after we’re done here!) I can even remember teachings against these types of prayers, because “it wasn’t really from the heart if we pray the same thing over and over again”. And specific times of day? Where is that craziness in the New Testament? But as I began to take a closer look at these practices, I learned a few things.

First, I learned that these practices of specific prayers and specific times of prayer were Christian translations of Jewish practices. The Jews who became the first Christians had been praying liturgically for centuries. Just because they became Christians doesn’t mean they just threw out their Jewish practices. Sadly, I think most Christians today think that they did. We’ve been so pumped full of “New Testament good, Old Testament bad” that we act and sound like anti-Semitic cavemen (cave-people?). The book of Acts mentions in several locations the Apostles going into the synagogues. We’ve been led to believe all along that they just went there to help the Jews change their evil ways – but they went there to pray. Because it was the time of day to do so, and they prayed prayers that had been said countless times over countless years. “Pray without ceasing” sound familiar?

Second, I learned that, as opposed to what I’ve always been taught, liturgical Christians pray spontaneously also! What a revelation. We evangelicals love our spontaneous prayer! We don’t like anyone, anywhere to tell us when and what to pray. It would mean it’s not really from our heart, right? Well, maybe. The faith community I was a part of growing up had a “tradition” of saying the 23rd Psalm together during worship every Sunday night. Same prayer, same words, same place in the worship service – every week. But don’t dare tell them it’s “liturgy”. Over the past couple of years I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of daily prayer, using a variety of prayer books. Surprisingly my house hasn’t fallen down around me, and what’s more, I’ve come to enjoy and even look forward to that time. I like it when I come back across a passage of prayer that I prayed some days or weeks ago. It’s reassuring, comforting and I even miss it when I skip it. (Shh, don’t tell anyone I said that.)

So, if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with kavanah.  Easy. How do we keep from prayer (or any other Christian practice) becoming merely “habitual”. The answer is kavanah – focus. The ancient rabbis said “A prayer without kavanah is like a body without a soul.” Coming before God in prayer easily becomes rote (especially if you use prescribed prayers) if you do not approach Him with focus, with intentionality. Those of you who are married, ask yourself how many times have you told your spouse that you loved them? How does that keep from becoming empty words? Kavanah. You focus yourself, and you mean to mean it!

The Lenten season is not about what we are doing without, just so we can check it off our Holy Christian To-Do list. The Lenten season is about kavanah, about focusing our thoughts and energy towards this incredible gift of grace we celebrate as Easter. It is about once again preparing to see ourselves in God’s eyes, and seeing the love we find there. It is doing without some distractions, so that the one voice we hear at the end of the dark tunnel of Lent is His. We sacrifice, so that we can more clearly see His sacrifice.

As we begin this season, I pray that you will use the next 40 days (and beyond!) to re-establish your intentionality and attentiveness to God and His gift. Grace and peace.

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