Sunday, July 23, 2017
In early June, our oldest daughter, Sarah, her husband, Ryan, and their dog, Ferris, moved to Indianapolis after living in Denver for nearly ten years. We were overjoyed to have them close by.
On the Fourth of July, a hot, humid day, Sarah and Ryan brought Ferris to our home to play in a small, plastic swimming pool I purchased at Target. Although Mike and I had a picnic to attend, we watched for a few minutes as Ferris rolled in the water and jumped in and out of the pool.
Just before we left, Ryan's face changed from laughing at the dog to a more serious, thoughtful expression. He told us how his maternal grandfather died on July fourth.
"I was eighteen at the time, but I remember the day clearly. My mom had returned home from spending the night at his bedside in a local nursing home. She took a quick shower, then joined my dad outside in the yard for a few moments to relax before she went back to be with her dad.
"Suddenly, a Monarch butterfly came and flew around my mother and dad a few times, close to noon. All of us were surprised to see a Monarch, as they aren't common in our town of Brookfield, Wisconsin, where we lived.
"When my mom got to the nursing home a few minutes later, she found out her father had died while she was home. At noon, the time the Monarch came."
Mike, Sarah and I listened to Ryan. We were thankful to learn more about his family. Suddenly, while Ryan was finishing his story, a huge Monarch butterfly came, flew around Ryan and within the circle we formed with our chairs.
We were speechless. I've never seen a Monarch butterfly appear in our yard during the twenty-one years we've lived in our house.
I believe God does send signs of God's presence in various ways through people, events or even butterflies.
When we arrived home that evening from our picnic, I sent Peggy, Ryan's mother, an email message telling her what happened.
She said, "The butterfly means immortality and spirit. It gives me chills to know this symbol came to Ryan today."
There's no way to explain this happening except to acknowledge God's hand at work offering blessing, hope, and encouragement.
For Your Reflection -
1. God's ways are often mysterious and can involve timing that is not of our understanding. Have you experienced moments of God's goodness, provision, and love that were reminders how God truly knows your heart? Write your story and email me; email@example.com. I am interested in how God comes to you, especially in unexpected ways.
Prayer: Sometimes it's hard to believe, God, with all of the people you create that you know everything happening in our lives. Thank you for your goodness and care that offers reassurance of your love and companionship. Amen.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Many shades of green triangles
With brown sticks on the bottom,
Grounded in the hillside –
Mountain beauty everywhere.
(I wrote this poem after a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, where I spent time with our daughter, Anna.)
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Finally, the last set of letters I wrote to people encountered during a series of days last summer.
May 18, 2016
Dear Woman Who Sat Next to Me on an Airplane as I traveled to My Oldest Daughter's Wedding,
You were from Wyoming. I'd never spoken to anyone from that state. You described your shift work in a dry wall factory. You were flying home from visiting your husband who had an organ transplant at the Indiana University Medical Center. He was in Indianapolis for three months recovering, while you stayed in Wyoming to work and pay the bills.
You described Wyoming, showed me a few pictures, and noted you lived in a small town where no one locks their doors. Your husband is an industrial arts teacher, you said, and you showed me pictures of your grandchildren.
I enjoyed talking to you and marveled how far people travel to receive treatment at hospitals that are within driving distance of my house.
You didn't mention anything about faith during this time of medical challenge, but I pray you had faith in God to get you through these trying times.
No Date - Dear Kroger Employee,
You looked so tired leaning against the trash can outside the store entrance. With the temperature close to 90, I can't imagine that being outside was restful. However, maybe stepping away from the store gave you a much-needed break from your job - perhaps the need for a few moments distance from the people, the carts and the clamor was worth leaving the cool air-conditioning and plunging into the heat.
Thank you for the work you do to make the store run smoothly. Every job is important.
I hope your break was exactly what you needed to get through the rest of your day.
No Date - Dear Little 10 Year-Old Waiting for a Baby Brother to Arrive at Indiana University Hospital,
You came up to me as I was walking toward the elevator. You were so excited as you told me you were going to be a big brother. You continued with other details of your life - your mother had been divorced twice, you had two siblings considerably older than you, and now a baby brother was almost here!
It must be hard to deal with so much at ten-years-old, and be confined to a small hospital waiting room when you are an active little boy.
I pray you have fun being a big brother!
No Date - Dear Debbie,
Today I took you to the convention center downtown. You brought a bag filled with lunch, a few books, and a water bottle. You seem to be content wherever you are. You don't try to make a scene or call attention to yourself. You are content to read or prepare a meal. You provide well for your sweet family. You are easygoing and content to let life come. I enjoy being your friend.
For Your Reflection
1. Keep a list of your observations of people throughout a day or for a week. To whom would you like to write a letter? What about the person or the circumstance draws your attention?
Prayer: Each day, God, I am made more aware of the variety of people you have created - all in your image. Unknowingly, these people bless me just by sharing space for a few moments. Sometimes we share a few words, other moments merely involve observation. Either way, compassion for others is broadened, making more space to love those whom I encounter. Amen.
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Last week I began a three-part series containing letters I wrote to people last summer. I did not intend to send the letters; my purpose was to increase my awareness of those I encountered throughout my day and reflect on their influence.
Here are the next three letters.
No Date - Dear Lady at the Post Office,
I held the door open for you as we entered the post office. You had a large box under each arm and could hardly move as you walked awkwardly into the lobby juggling these parcels. Your long, gray dreadlocks were pulled back in a ponytail.
I wondered where your packages were going - who would receive your generosity?
Our lives intersected for a few seconds as I acted on one of my maxims of looking behind and holding the door open for others.
Imagining how the recipients of the packages will respond gives me joy. What if these were boxes of non-descript items - not something special? I'll ponder the possibilities the rest of the day.
June 7, 2016
Dear Lady Swimming in the Lane Next to Me at the YMCA,
You always take up the whole lane when you swim, especially when you're on your back. Today there were only two lanes available for lap swimming; the one you were in and the one next to it. Fortunately, the adjacent lane was empty, so I jumped in.
On the way back from my first lap, I noticed a man waiting to swim. I offered to split my lane. I motioned to your lane and said, "She takes up the whole lane," just as you elevated your head out of the water.
Woops! I hope you didn't hear what I said. My words had no relevance to my offer to share a lane - I added them out of frustration that someone would take up so much space oblivious to others who might want to swim. But it doesn't matter, not in the long run. You matter to God, you should matter to me too.
Please forgive me.
June 9, 2016
Dear Resident in the Neighboring Housing Addition with Yellow Old-Fashioned Lawn Chairs in the Side Yard Under a Willow Tree,
I was sinking deeply into old ruts when I got closer to your yard and saw the two yellow chairs side by side under the tree. I've cycled back in thought to these chairs throughout the day, picturing the bright color and realizing how inviting and welcoming they were.
I wonder if you use them or if they are for decoration? Either way, they left an image for me to focus.
Today I am a struggling soul in need of an image. Thank you for your happy yellow chairs. In my heart, I sat in them for a long time, lingering.
Questions for Reflection?
1. What captures your attention as you travel through your day - a person, an object, an animal, a roadside sign?
2. Consider writing a letter to someone or something that captured your attention as a way to add more meaning to your day. Sometimes when I write, thoughts come out that were not present when I began. You, too, may have surprises when you take time to write and reflect.
Prayer: God, each day brings a new group of your children into shared space, if only for a few seconds. Let each one teach us something about you, about love, about being with others, so that our hearts expand to embrace all. Amen.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
For a week last summer, I decided to write a note to a person who caught my attention as I went through my day. I did this at the end of the day to reflect on each person's impact and to increase my awareness of those I encounter. I had no way of giving the letter to them.
The next couple of weeks I will share these notes Maybe you would like to complete a similar exercise.
Note 1 - June 2, 2016
Dear Young Woman,
You walked into the library with your drink held high in your right hand and a dark, thick book tucked under your left arm. You walked straight and tall, a posture of confidence going through the front door and down the hall.
I wonder what book you had and what you were doing at the library at 9:00 am on a Thursday morning? What excused you from school?
Your step conveyed focus and determination - so my prayer for you today is that you will achieve the goals you are seeking, now and in the future.
Note 2 - June 2, 2016 (taking two girls, 8 and 10 to the fabric store)
Dear Lady in the Parking Lot at the Fabric Store,
We'd just finished a successful, fairly quick trip to get fabric to make skirts. We exited the building and went to the car.
Eight-year-old Elizabeth, got in on a side close to another car where you were waiting to park. When you rolled down your car window, I apologized for delaying your entrance. In a cheerful voice, you said, "This is summer! No need to hurry!"
I thanked you for understanding. The smile on your face and pleasant voice helped me feel the sincerity of your words.
Bless you for the patience you showed two little girls taking their time getting into the car.
Note 3 - No date given
Dear Lady in the Locker Room at the YMCA (She was explaining what she was doing with her eight-year-old granddaughter who is living with her during the summer because of parental turmoil.)
You are doing a wonderful job of nurturing the importance of education in your granddaughter. You are giving her solid grounding in a life that must be confusing at times. Challenging her in English, math and spelling to work ahead almost two years above grade level is inspiring. The love and care you are offering her will stay with her always. I offer prayers for strength and energy to care for an eight-year-old.
Prayer: Everyday, God, we see your creation in other human beings - all shapes and sizes, all made by you and containing your image. Even though we may not interact with many in person, we can learn from each one when we share a common space temporarily or observe from a distance. Thank you for providing glimpses of you through others as we go through our days. Amen.
More letters to follow next week.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
This year for Mother's Day, Anna wrote a loving note and sent a bag of my favorite granola from a place we like to get coffee and eat breakfast when we visit her in Portland. I try to ration the granola over a few days, but usually it's gone within 24 hours.
Sarah made me a card containing thoughtful and loving sentiments. She enclosed in her package a colorful fabric banner she found in a coffee shop in Denver. Seven small flags hang from the banner with encouraging statements.
I draped the banner over the bulletin board in my office where I can read the words whenever I walk in. Each phrase has a matching picture.
Here are the seven thoughts I see throughout my day:
- Be truthful.
- Be empowered.
- Be brave.
- Be determined.
- Be active.
- Be kind.
These colorful pieces of cloth:
- Offer advice for daily living
- Guide me in ways to treat and respond to people
- Create an attitude that is positive and energizing
- Illustrate how to organize my day with meaningful intentions
- Add color and image to a listing of life's truths.
The small card that came with the banner said, "Handmade flags to honor and celebrate." Now I have a visual reminder to honor and celebrate each day in specific ways.
Anna's handwritten note and granola and Sarah's handmade card and banner keep me connected to my sweet daughters who live across the country, reflecting the words on the front of Anna's card, "Wherever we are, we're together."
1. How do you keep in touch with those you love who live far away?
2. What words of advice guide your day? Could you make a banner for each?
Prayer: God, thank you so much for my daughters who fill my heart with joy even though we don't see each other often. There are many ways to stay in touch, and you have blessed us with quick and easy means of communication that give great depth of love and meaning to our time. Thank you for thoughtfulness that brings comfort and greeting to my mother-heart. Amen.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Yesterday, my friend Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was recently diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.
We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan’s arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms.
We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn’t be ruined.
Sue brought some of her books to share. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late where not allowed on the cancer floor.
As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.
She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. “This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?”
We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.
“Yes,” I said. “I know someone.” One of my daughter’s friends had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.
Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.
However, we know that our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home in Evansville was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.
How do we approach people who are confronting difficult, life-threatening circumstances?
- Show Up – It’s never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional difficulties.
- Bring something for the person to do. Hospital days can be long. If this person left in a hurry, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
- Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. He or she will let you know what to talk about.
- If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You’ll offer comfort.
Prayer: God, thank you for strength needed to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for I know you are the great provider. Amen.