Lost in wonder, love, and praise! When I woke up last Tuesday, it suddenly occurred to me that it was my son Garth’s birthday, and I was traveling back to the place of his birth that very day. I sent him an email and copied the rest of my family, “I am just about to leave for a 3 day cabinet meeting on the Leelanau Peninsula west of Traverse City. It’s ironic and very sweet because you were born 27 years ago today in Traverse City, and I have been back in the area just a few times since we moved. On the day you were born, a Wednesday, I went for a very slow 5 mile jog. You were already 2 weeks overdue. Then I visited a few church members out on the Old Mission Peninsula. In the early afternoon, I knew I was in labor, so Dad and I packed things up and went for a leisurely drive on the Leelanau Peninsula.
“We arrived at the hospital about 6 p.m., and things went really fast after that. You came into the world around 7:15 p.m. So as I drive up to the Traverse City area today, I will celebrate your life, Garth. Sandwiched between 2 girls, you have always held your own and been a peacemaker. I thank God for all 3 of you: Sarah, Garth and Talitha, and for Dad, without whom you wouldn’t be! You are all the light of my life, and I am very proud of each one of you. Garth, have a wonderful day! 27 is a great age to be, and the best is yet to come. Love, Mom”
Lost in wonder, love, and praise, I arrived at the farm of Jay and Joan Hook, an active United Methodist couple who generously invited the cabinet to hold their September meeting at their farm. If there is a more beautiful place in this world, I haven’t seen it. Fruit orchards, farmland, meadows, woods, rivers, sand dunes, and the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan: it’s all on the Leelanau Peninsula.
On Tuesday night the cabinet attended a Singspiration at the Traverse Bay United Methodist Church, sponsored by all the congregations in the Grand Traverse District. Unfortunately, I have become accustomed to lackluster singing in many of our churches, so I was utterly lost in wonder, love, and praise to hear such enthusiastic, spirit-filled, and joyous music. Who says that hymn singing is outmoded? The song leader urged us to lay down our burdens for an hour and simply sing, which we did. Convinced that those who sing pray twice, we belted out “Blessed Assurance” with reckless abandon and fervent faith, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
Interspersed between congregational hymns, a few gospel hymns sung by the cabinet, and “This Little Light of Mine, a 3 handkerchief song sung by Jessica, an elementary age girl, we heard testimonies of God’s amazing grace. Thanking God that music has always been a part of my story, my mind wandered back 29 years ago to our oldest daughter’s birth in the same hospital where Garth was born, just a few miles from the church where I was sitting. Holding 3 day old Sarah in my hospital bed and awed and a bit frightened by this tiny human being for whom Gary and I were now completely responsible, I listened on the radio to Traverse City Central UMC’s Sunday worship service. What should I hear but a soloist singing, “He’s got the little bitty baby in his hands, He’s got the whole in his hands.” How could she have ever known that her song was meant to comfort and reassure me?
During an extended Wednesday afternoon break, four of us decided to climb the Sleeping Bear Dune and hike the 4 mile round trip to Lake Michigan. It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day, with incredible views of the dunes, Glen Lake, and Lake Michigan. I remember praying, “God, if this is what heaven is like, I’m ready. Take me now!” Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
God’s grace was just getting started with us, though. Back at the farm, the cabinet was greeted by a Bible study group (“The Beta Group”) from the Leland United Methodist Church. Jay, Joan, Jane, Doug, Therese, Peter, Kris, Rich, and Sherry, dressed in white shirts and black pants or skirts, had offered to make and serve dinner for us. The dining room table was filled with colorful flowers from the garden, soft classical music was playing in the background, the early evening sun cast soft shadows on the meadows outside, and at each table place we found the following menu:
Hook Farm Dinner
Assorted Cheeses and Crackers
Baby Spinach with Fresh Blueberries, Candied Pecans and
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
(All Entrees served with Dauphinoise French Gratin Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley)
Beef Tenderloin with Au Jus or Horseradish Cream Sauce
Salmon with a Caper Tartar Sauce
Seasonal Deep Dish Apple Pie with a Cardamon Crumb Topping
Fresh Brewed Coffee
“Thank you for allowing us to serve you. God bless you.”
I was completely lost in wonder, love, and praise, and we hadn’t even begun to eat! After the cabinet attempted to sing for their dinner, we experienced a foretaste of the celestial banquet. Never have I eaten such exquisite food – never. Food meticulously prepared with love, presented with artistry, and served with graciousness – the extravagant hospitality was pure gift, far beyond our deserving.
I’d like to think that our stay at the Hook farm inspired the cabinet to greater heights of wisdom, clarity, and faithfulness to the tasks that were before us. It certainly did wonders for our individual and collective spirits to work in such a beautiful setting where our every want was cared for. When someone sends you back home with warm cookies and says, “I baked the oatmeal cookies 3 ways: chewy, crispy, and crunchy,” how can you not become lost in wonder, love, and praise?
Jay and Joan Hook and the Beta Group embodied the love of Jesus Christ in a way that was almost embarrassing to the cabinet because it was so utterly selfless. We will never be able to repay them for their kindness, but what we can do is pass it on. 263 years ago Charles Wesley wrote one of Christianity’s favorite and most compelling hymns, “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down.” The last phrase of the last stanza is “lost in wonder, love, and praise.” Isn’t that the essence of our call: to embody the joy of heaven on earth by noticing and then witnessing to wonder, love, and praise?
- What might happen in our world if we chose to wake up every morning thankful for the opportunity to serve others that day?
- How might our own lives be transformed if our heart’s desire were to live each day lost in wonder, love, and praise?
- How might the kingdom of God come on this earth if we noticed, honored and cared for all of God’s children, especially those who are ignored, dismissed, or oppressed?
- How might a phone call, a smile, a hug, a note, a listening ear, a warm oatmeal cookie, or a song change the story of another person’s life?
The wonder of it all is that such grace cannot be constrained. Indeed, when we let grace spill over into every corner of our world, the best is surely yet to come.