Sunday, June 17, 2018

Showing Up

Showing up is a phrase I use almost every day. Just this morning I was talking to a woman at the YMCA. She mentioned her reluctance to get out of bed on a cloudy, rainy day to exercise.

"At least you showed up," I offered, "even though you didn't feel like coming to spend time on the equipment."

"You are right," she replied with a grin. "I showed up, now I am ready to go to the fitness center, then I can go out to lunch with a friend."

"Have fun!" I added, as she walked away carrying a thick book.

Writers Show Up

Writers are often encouraged to "show up" at their desks or laptops to encourage a daily writing routine even if there aren't any thoughts to record. "Showing up" means you are half-way to beginning another essay, short story, blog entry, poem or other form of written expression. Moving a pencil on paper or fingers over a keyboard begins to generate words into thoughts, ideas and sentences. "Priming the pump," as people used to say long ago, to get started, get moving or continue thoughts still works today.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Recently I heard well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. Elizabeth was promoting her book, Big Magic. When talking about life, she said, "You win already by just showing up."

"Showing up" relates to all parts of life, showing up to work, showing up to a friend in need, showing up for a committee meeting, showing up for a service project - the list is endless. "Showing up" relates to our ways of being present to each other even when circumstances are challenging. My friend, Ann, "shows up" to visit her elderly father in an assisted living facility several times a week despite having a less than stellar childhood. She perseveres in her visits to show love and compassion, energized by God's love.

Kara Tippett

A few years ago I heard Kara Tippett speak at a fund-raising even for the Megan S. Ott Foundation that helps persons diagnosed with breast cancer. Kara's cancer had recently spread to her brain and other vital organs. The foundation brought her to Indianapolis to address family, friends and others who had read her book, The Hardest Peace. Unfortunately Kara died a few months after she spoke.

While Kara was going through the last weeks of life, she and her friend, Jill Lynn Buteyn, wrote a book Just Show Up -the dance of walking through suffering together. Jill and Kara's book addresses the awkwardness that can come when a friend or family member is dealing with difficult circumstances or is dying. "Showing up" with a meal, or with a gift of time sitting in silence or holding his/her hand are meaningful ways to be present during the long days of terminal.

My Experience Showing Up Long Ago

I remember when Mike was serving a church in rural North Carolina while he was a student at Duke Divinity School.  One of the oldest members of the congregation died. I was so nervous about what to say to his elderly widow since being with people in grief was brand new to me. Mentally, I rehearsed a few sentences to say that I  hoped would offer comfort. When I saw the widow sitting on a couch in the living room,  I panicked and couldn't remember my "rehearsed speech." The receiving line of friends moved quickly and when I reached her, I recalled a few of my sentences, talking way too fast to someone who probably didn't retain a word I said. What was important, however, was that I "showed up", I was there, I spent a few minutes with her and in so doing held her grief, sharing her loss.

Reflections on Showing Up

Through the years, I've learned "showing up" for those dealing with difficulty is simple, but hard. Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you feel comfortable, a hug or embrace conveys love, compassion, companionship and support. No words are needed.
2. Food is always helpful. Waiting for someone to call when they realize a need for nourishment may not come. Difficult circumstances make simple tasks, like picking up the phone and dialing a number a challenge. Call ahead to make sure there is someone to receive your gift of compassion and care.
3. Send a card. Write a message of encouragement or a memory you have if a person has died. Sometimes I cut out a heart from fabric to include a tangible symbol of love to convey continued connection for a person who is struggling through challenging circumstances.
4. Let the person discuss whatever he or she desires. Recently, when Mike and I made a hospital visit to our long-time friend, Bill, dealing with inoperable cancer, the conversation centered around the ingredients listed in a container of Boost, his liquid nourishment for many weeks. Boost was important to Bill in these moments, so that is what we discussed.

God "shows up" every day. "Showing up" to God can take many forms - prayer, worship, singing, acts of service, participation in small groups, taking a walk, art or other ways reflecting our individual ways of being with God.

Prayer: God, you "show up" wherever we are everywhere and in everyone. Open our hearts to see you. When we "show up" and absorb you, we can "show up" to others in your name. Amen.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Kate Bowler God Is Love


Recently, (April 1), I wrote about thirty-seven-year-old Kate Bowler's latest book, Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved. The book grew from her experiences following a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer two years ago.

The spring 2018 issue of the Duke Alumni Magazine arrived this week with a feature and update on Kate, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. The article reports that she is now part of a small group of patients receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment which seems to be working. She has a CT scan every ninety days and if nothing has spread, if nothing looks worse - she gets another three month reprieve.

"She describes her life now as 'vine to vine.' She chooses the best vine available, hopes there'll be another one after that one, and gives her best swing, over and over and over."

She adds, "My own post-diagnosis world has brought me into a different relationship with God."

In the midst of heartbreak, she has been surprised to feel the presence of God more powerfully. "The only category I understand more is the love of God. Both the experience of wanting to be close to God and the surprise of the feeling that God is close to me."

The Love of God

The love of God is core to our beliefs as Christians. I remember when I was a child attending Sunday school in an Episcopal Church, a song we sang almost every week is the early 20th century children's hymn "God Whose Name Is Love." The verses include the following:

         God whose name is love, happy children we,

         Listen to the hymn that we sing to thee.

         Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

         God whose name is love, loving may be be.

Carrying this song in my heart over sixty years speaks to the importance of the words as a foundation to my life. The song not only describes who God is - love - but also offers a challenge in the last line - "loving may we be" - how to live with others.

Growing up in a home that was less than loving made the words in this song even more important. I recall praying at my desk in elementary school or on the playground at recess and feeling God's love in my heart. God's love sustained me then and continues to ground me at all times.

Jesus Is Love

Jesus, the embodiment of God's love, models throughout the gospels how to treat others, even those who are outcasts or on the fringe of life. He affirmed others by acknowledging them as children of God, which brought healing and strength to those people who came to hear him preach and teach.

Filled and fueled by God's love, Jesus made an impact and modeled life by God's design.


Showing Love Unexpectedly

The church I attend has a small table in the front of the sanctuary filled with tiered layers of votive candles available for lighting. Every week when the service ends, Mike and I light two candles and pray.

On Sunday, May 6, just after I lit my candle and turned to walk away, a lady approached, crying. I paused and put my arm around her for a few minutes as she lit a candle and continued sobbing. She slowly gained control of her emotions and I left.

A few minutes later, I was passing through the fellowship hall or "donut room," where people gather to drink coffee or eat a donut and visit. I saw her and as I approached, her eyes filled with tears. When I gave her another hug, I said, "I prayed that you would feel God's love and presence." She smiled.

Opportunities for spreading God's love are everywhere and often unexpected.

Love

Dealing with a serious illness has shaken and changed Kate Bowler. She says, "I do possess a solid belief in God, but I don't call that faith. I don't know what faith is. I really don't. I just don't know what it means now."

Despite her struggles with faith and certainty, Kate is resting in the love of God to sustain her through these days as she teaches and is a wife and mother.

Although my path has not involved illness, a simple song in Sunday school launched me into God's abundant love and gave me hope when I was in elementary school. I hold onto that same hope all these years later.

          Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

          God whose name is love, loving may we be.

Reflection Questions

1. What is sustaining you when life is hard?

2. How can you  model Jesus' love and the last line in my childhood song, "loving may we be" to family, friends and even strangers?

Prayer: Generous God, you lavish your love on us in the ways you offer care for our bodies, minds and souls. Even though we sin and fall short of where we need to be as your children, your abundant
love comes to us wherever we are. Let us be grateful for your never ending goodness. Amen.









































Sunday, June 3, 2018

Troubling the Water


Tracy K. Smith, 2018 poet laureate of the United States, seeks to raise national awareness for a greater appreciation of reading and writing poetry.

Tracy is using her stipend of $35,000 to visit rural areas where most writers are unlikely to travel. She says, "I want to just go to places where writers don't usually go, where people like me don't usually show up and say, 'Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'"

The cover story of the April 15, 2018, New York Times magazine features Smith. "The meditative state of mind a poem induces, she believes, can be a 'rehumanizing force,' an antidote to the din of daily life, in which our phones continuously buzz with news alerts perfectly algorithmed to reinforce our biases."

One of Tracy's Favorite Poems

One of the poems she likes to read to the audience is "Wade in the water/God's gonna trouble the water." God's 'troubling the water' is a reference to a line in the gospel of John 5:1-7, testifying to divine healing. Sick people are gathered around the pool at Bethesda.

She explains, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever the first after the troubling of the water steeped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Trouble on the surface of the water is a sign of God's presence."

My Experience with John 5:1-7

I've been swimming laps at least five days a week since 1975. Mike and I started swimming when he was a seminary student at Duke University Divinity School.

Through the years swimming became a place of silent worship as well as a great way to exercise.

When I studied John 5:1-7 a few years ago, I decided to begin by taking my hand and "stirring the water" before entering the pool, asking God to bless my time and speak to me while I swim.

Over the years, swimming back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, I've received insights and perspectives for my life as well as images to draw. I've felt God hold me close as I worked through anger, and resentment and dealt with other topics of concern.

Afterwards, I get out of the pool and shake off the water that still coats me with God and helps me emerge with a soul cleansed and refreshed.

God Still Troubles The Water Today

God still troubles the water today, with words for the poet, Tracy Smith, with insights for me when I swim, and for others who hear God's voice.

Reflection Questions

1. In what circumstances have you experienced "troubling the water" - God's presence in life?

2. How can you "trouble the water" for others?

Prayer: God, you "trouble our lives" every moment we breathe as your presence is always available no matter what is happening. We don't need water for "your troubling" to happen, for wherever we are, you are. Your troubling blesses our lives and keeps us close to you. Amen.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Barking to the Choir - Father Greg Boyle


During the last two weeks of April, the local public radio station conducted the semi-annual pledge drive to raise funds for programming.

One day during this period, Terry Gross' show, "Fresh Air," was re-broadcast of a November 17, 2017, interview with Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He has also written two books, Tattoo on the Heart - The Power of Boundless Compassion (2011) and Barking to the Choir - The Power of Radical Kinship (2017). Each provide interesting and inspiring reading.

Mike and I heard Father Boyle speak in July, 2016, at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year, we took four gang members for ice cream, two men and two women, who were visiting Chautauqua for a week. We learned so much from them about developing positive life skills and gaining employment after being part of Father Boyle's ministry.

What Is Prayer?

Toward the end of Terry's interview, she asked Father Boyle about prayer.

"What is the role of prayer in your life?" she asked.

He replied when he was a child, his prayers were rote and petitionary, such as "Please help me pass my math test since I didn't have time to study."

As he grew older, his prayer life changed and became more meditative using mantras such as "resting in You, resting in me." He says, "Prayer helps me find God at the center of my life."

Now that statement is a far cry from a petitionary prayer asking God for something to happen. Father Boyle has moved beyond asking to searching and seeking God in his life through prayer.

My Thoughts

I deeply connected with his words as I do not make petitionary prayer. I bring people for whom I pray each day to God, but I don't ask for specifics. I believe God is aware of their circumstances, so I pray, "God I bring you _____," and let God work.

Father Boyle also acknowledged another one of my beliefs: God cannot protect us from adversity, but as we step into the wideness of God's presence, God will sustain us through any hardship that comes our way.

Hearing Father Boyle speak again was affirming as I connected with the message he proclaimed at Chautauqua and then on "Fresh Air." I treasure the mile I walked with him on the grounds of Chautauqua as we were both returning from a meeting and heading to dinner.

Reflection:

1. How is prayer for you?
2. What does prayer mean for you?
3. Are you involved in petitionary prayer or in a style that seeks to find God at the center of your life?

Prayer: God, you give us direction on prayer in the Bible, but sometimes we come to you begging for results when we really need to be reminded and reassured of your presence to sustain and to guide. Give us encouragement to seek a new perspective on prayer and strength to try new ways of being with you. Amen. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Thank You Note - A Nice Surprise



Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 87-year-old, I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year, along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning if I live to my eighties I hope to have the energy and zest for life I see in Katie.

This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude she added, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"

I chuckled when I read her words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life..
Another Unexpected Thank You

A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.

Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for this gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to a volunteer or hospital employee. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.

My Own Experience with Thank You Notes

Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that habit from my past into adulthood. I taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as 'thank you'. I continue to write and send them myself all these years later as a habit and a joy - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift until I write a thank you note.

Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor, for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.

I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.

Jesus Says Thank You

Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people, and at the last supper.

Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.

Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."

Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.

Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me" (John 11:41-42).

Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of
bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them" (Matthew 15:35-36).

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it" (Luke 22:19).

Jesus knew the value of giving thanks to God.

More Thanks From Reader's Digest

The April, 2018 issue of Reader's Digest contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime" (pages 110-117).

Fifteen people share their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."

Final Thoughts

Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you not for bringing us a meal after we moved.

Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."

At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but I surely have written a lot of thank you notes over Mikes 37 years with churches because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.

Prayer: God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks and praise. Amen.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Life Is Hard,God Is Good - The Beatitudes Reversed


Matthew 5: 1-20 - Now when he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying,

     "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
      Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
      Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
      Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
      Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

One day, Jesus decided to go up a mountain along with the disciples and teach them by offering a series of lessons, later known as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon described the whole spectrum of life in the kingdom mentioning the poor and the meek, those who are mourning or hungry, those who are pure in heart or merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

Why Are Those Who Suffer Blessed?

I've always wondered why the word "blessed" was paired with each of these conditions. Why are those who are hungry and persecuted blessed? Why are those who mourn blessed? Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction in terms.

I spent some time studying the word, "blessed," and reading about the interpretation and meaning of these passages. "Blessed" means divinely favored and receiving from God.

Those who are grieving, hungry and persecuted are blessed because they are not alone. God is with them. Being blessed means that when suffering happens, we can be open to receive God's presence, love, hope, strength and encouragement to help get through difficult days.

My Reflection

In my reflection with this passage I focused on verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Loss was heavy on my mind and familiar to my heart. I carry loss from my past. I was also mindful of the fourteen people I have known who died since August, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others acquaintances.

I recently received a thank  you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends whose son died after an eight month battle with cancer. Anna and I made a donation to his place of employment. At the end of the note she said, "Life is hard, God is good."

She was stating a beatitude about mourning in reverse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." Her comment could be re-ordered to say, "God is good, but life is hard," to reflect the language of the beatitude.

By saying, "God is good," she is opening herself to the vast expanse of God's presence, mercy, love, compassion and comfort in the midst of heartbreak and tremendous grief, that indeed, makes life hard.

God Is With Us

When difficult times come our way, being blessed may not be our first thought. However, knowing  "blessed" means that God is with us, we do not have to go through our days alone, for all that God offers is available.  God welcomes us into his presence.

Questions For Reflection

1. What does blessed mean to you?
2. When you have experienced grief, hunger or persecution, do you feel blessed?
3. How has God helped you through rough times with the assurance you are not alone, but blessed?

Prayer: God, sometimes you speak in ways that seem confusing. When we explore your language we have new ways of understanding your nature and what life in you can offer. Keep us always anchored in you for all life brings our way. Amen.