Sunday, March 19, 2017

Getting Ready for Anna's Birthday

There’s an empty space on my office floor,

Where my preparations rested

Throughout the weeks leading

To your birthday.

Now all the surprises are in a box,

Ready to travel

Thousands of miles

From my heart

To yours.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sharing Space - We Do It All The Time

Standing in line at the grocery store, Target, hardware store, Macy’s or any other place can often present challenges. Sometimes if we’re in a hurry it seems that the person in front needs a price check or got the wrong size or wants another color of the same item or forgot one more item in the farthest aisle from the checkout lane.

So we wait.

And while we wait, we deal with mounting impatience and frustration when we just want to get on with our day. Why did I get stuck in this line with these people? Why did I have to show up at the exact same moment?

Like it or not, we’re sharing space with others in the world.

And, yes, sharing space can be aggravating. But sharing space can also offer an opportunity to pray for those around us.

Try offering a general thought or blessing such as “God come to _________________ [this woman, this man, this child],” or “Let ________________ [him or her] know the reality of your presence,” or “Help this mother have patience with her child while she waits.” The simple act of bringing that person to mind, heart, and spirit as we stand in line and share space can bring us new joy or offer perspective to the situation.

Sharing Empathetic Space

Recently, I participated in a yoga class held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Saturday morning before the museum opened. It’s one of my favorite things to do. As I waited for the guide to take me to the third floor gallery where the class was held, my mat slung over my shoulder, I shared space with a woman standing next to me. She started talking to me. A retired breast surgeon, she was dealing with the challenge of her children living in two faraway places: Florida and Texas. She was debating whether to move closer to one or the other of them. I listened, sharing my story of children who live far away. We shared empathetic space as we waited for class to begin.

Sharing Soothing Space

Every week when I volunteer at Indiana University Hospital North, I share space with anxious families who are waiting until their loved one returns from surgery. As I wait with them, I listen and reflect their concerns, offering compassion to soothe their anxiety. Walking with them down the hall the final time for a reunion with the patient ends our moments of shared space.

Sharing Heart Space

Sharing space is about sharing my heart—opening my heart through God’s heart. What an honor each day to be given the opportunity to share space with another.

Recently, I shared space in a funeral home. I stood in line to pay respects to a family whose 20-year-old son died suddenly. I started talking to the woman in front of me. A winding line of college students, who wore perplexed and confused expressions, surrounded us. The woman explained a few details of the man’s death. “My son was one of his best friends since elementary school,” she added. With each word she said, my heart expanded to envelop her and all others in the crowded setting. Sharing space in this encounter reached the deepest places of my heart as I mourned with her and shared a common bond of shock and sorrow.

Sharing space with others can open the heart in unexpected ways – even those moments that begin with frustration can end with concern and care.

For your reflection:

  • What places do you share with others?
  • What happens during those long or short moments?
  • How do others share space with you?

Prayer: God, we share space with many throughout our days. Sometimes we engage in dialogue with people; other times our interaction is silent communion. Open our hearts deeper and deeper to receive your great love, so we can pour out this love with listening, attention, and empathy for those with whom we share space. Amen.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Patched Pew Looks Like My Patched Heart

A rectangular, green patch on the tan church pew caught my eye one Sunday when I was leaving the sanctuary.
A patch on a church pew? What an astonishing sight in a fairly new sanctuary. I wonder what could have happened to cause a tear in a thick piece of brocade fabric?
The patch invited lots of questions. Who damaged the pew? What kind of tear or hole rested underneath?
Remembered how patches were used to repair holes in clothes years ago. When I was growing up, patches were used to extend the use of clothing—if a hole emerged in the knee of my corduroy pants, my mother ironed on a patch and the pants were ready to wear again.
The worn-out elbow in a long-sleeve shirt didn’t get an iron-on patch. Instead, she would sew one by hand, and after a few washings and wearings, it started to come loose. The threads separated, warranting a new patch—and before long it experienced the same fate as the first. After two or three hand-sewn patches pulled and fell off, dangling threads enlarged and stretched the hole in the shirt, finally prompting us to dispose of the garment and replace it.

Heart Patches

I’ve recently dealt with a series of losses. My close friend and mentor, Annabel, died on December 20, 2016. Another dear friend is moving out of state. Other friends are busy and don’t seem to have time to be together as we have in the past.
Loss upon loss has weighed me down these early weeks in the new year. Complicating these situations are the decades of loss from my childhood and adolescence. As a friend told me recently, “the latest or current loss encompasses all loss.” This means I am affected more deeply by present loss because I have limited grounding or foundation of solid nurturing and love.

The Leaks of Patched Wineskin

Searching the Bible for a scripture to help, I came across Matthew 9:17 – “Nor does anyone pour new wine into used wineskins, for the skins will burst, the wine will pour out, and the skins will be ruined.” This passage speaks to how patched holes in a wineskin can’t hold the wine. The patch may last temporarily, but leaks around the patch will weaken the hold.
I thought about my heart as a piece of wineskin that has been patched and patched for so many years that parts of my heart are bulging from so much loss with weakened threads.
Unfortunately, no classes are available that deal with extensive loss—especially loss that isn’t from death, but cumulative life circumstances.

Sewing Patches for My Heart

Like the seamstress who got some fabric to patch the hole in the church pew, I cut 4-inch squares of fabric and laid these over a 12-inch piece of cloth representing my heart. I began stitching. Twelve 4-inch squares eventually covered the cloth of my heart. Still not feeling peace, I began another square using the same procedure. As I sew these “patches for my heart,” I ask God to keep my focus on God, to comfort my heart, to restore equilibrium and balance to my emotions and lighten my path.


Questions for Reflection:

1.     What experiences have you had with patches?
2.     How does your heart ache?
3.     In what ways can God patch your heart?

Prayer: God, we are frequently in cycles of loss and gain, confusion and imbalance, sadness and joy, sometimes each within a minute of our day. Let your love and light shine and hold those threads that secure our patches tightly.  And when loss comes and the threads part and loosen, come in and stitch so that new life in you can come again. Restore our souls and hold our hearts in your embrace. Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winter Walk in Three Parts

Part 1

We went to the woods
That day in late December,
Unseasonably warm at 44 degrees
To find fresh air and
Walk a trail.

Leaves formed a brown quilt
With many hues
Of nature’s earthy color,
To cushion our steps
As we walked along
The rugged muddy trail.

Trees stripped of leaves
Stood like pegs set in a Styrofoam base,
The full internal pattern
Of branches, like trails,
Showing extensions
Of the tiniest stretch.

Kelly green and navy jackets
And a magenta stocking hat,
Offer contrast to the
Winter sticks of
Gray and brown. 

Part 2

A few days later
I returned
To the woods
Where we found fresh air,
A trail,
Laughter and discovery.
I tried to capture
The moments we shared –
But it wasn’t the same
Because you
Weren’t there.

Part 3

I’ll return, though,
And again
Because we were there
You left a memory
On the trail and
In the woods
I can recall
To soothe my heart
While you are gone.
I look forward
To the next walk
In the woods.
I will return
And I will find you there
As I walk among

The trees.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Letters - Annabel and A Former President

When my 101-year-old long-time friend Annabel died in late December 2016, she left me a stack of correspondence that spanned thirty-three years. Annabel valued the permanency of the written word in many ways.

For example, Annabel and her husband, Grover, kept a guest book on their coffee table in the living room. Before family or visitors left, they were invited to sign and date their presence. Even little children who could barely write their names were included. The Hartmans valued all people who entered their home.

Exchanging letters was a way Annabel and I liked to communicate. In the short talk I gave at her memorial service on January 28, I recalled how even when we lived in the same town and the two of us could talk on the phone or visit, we still exchanged letters. Writing to each other was one of the foundations of our friendship, one that offered me an opportunity to preserve the wisdom, encouragement, and perceptions on life that Annabel gave.

Presidents Like Letters 

A few presidents read and responded to letters from constituents as a regular practice, including Barack Obama, who read ten letters a day from the multitude of mail that reaches the White House every day. Staffers carefully chose the letters that the former president read and responded to each night after dinner.

Obama describes the value of letters in an interview from the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on January 22, 2017: “Constituents feel like you are hearing them, and that you are responding to them – that makes up for a lot of stuff. That kind of instilled in me the sense of – the power of mail. And people knowing that if they took the time to write something that the person who represented them was actually paying attention.”

The article continues:

“[T]he letters gave me permission to legitimately slow down, an opportunity for nuance and contradiction. I didn’t understand how meaningful it would end up being to me.”  
“By the time I got to the White House and somebody informed me that we were going to get 40,000 or-whatever-it-was pieces of mail a day, I was trying to figure out how do I in some way duplicate that experience I had during the campaign. And I think this was the idea that struck me as realistic. Reading ten letters a day – I could do that.” 

Barack Obama concluded, “I tell you, one of the things I’m proud of about having been in this office is that I don’t feel like I’ve lost myself.” He said, “I feel as if – even if my skin is thicker from you know, public criticism, and I’m wiser about the workings of government, I haven’t become …cynical, and I haven’t become callused. And I would like to think that these letters have something to do with that.”

Even the former president valued the communication he received from the American people represented in the ten letters he read each day.

Abiding Love 

I miss Annabel so much and can’t believe she is gone, even after living 101 years. I thought she would live forever.

At the memorial service, I showed those gathered my stack of letters bound by a tan string. “Here is a stack of many letters I received from Annabel. They are pieces of her that I can access whenever I want a ‘visit’ or need to ‘hear’ her voice again.”

A few days later, I randomly chose a card to read, dated November 5, 2009. She signed the card, “Abiding love, Annabel.” Looking up the definition of abide, I found: to remain, continue, stay. Although Annabel isn’t here anymore her love for me abides always.



For Your Reflection – 

Is there someone to whom you would like to write a letter, perhaps offering encouragement, sharing thoughts or recounting what is happening in your life? Take some time to get a piece of paper, a pen and envelope, and offer your recipient a treasure of communication.

Have you received letters in the past that have particular value? How do you cherish the person who wrote?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways we record our sentiments and thoughts on paper. This lost art of communication has permanence allowing us to read and re-read what has been expressed. Allow us to make room and time to record our thoughts and offer pieces of ourselves that others can refer to forever. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Power of Tiny Things

A quilt over one hundred years old hangs on our family room wall, pieced and quilted by a group of women who met weekly to sew at Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis.

We lived in the parsonage next door to the church for six years from 1983 to 1989. Sarah was five years old and Anna was born a year later.

The sewing ladies met in an old farmhouse one quarter of a mile from the church every Wednesday from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm. Those who attended packed a lunch and took a break close to noon to eat.

A couple of times a month Anna and I walked through the cornfields between the parsonage and the farmhouse and visited the women. We admired their handwork.

Anna and I enjoyed watching the ladies make quilt after quilt, marveling at the speed and efficiency of their hands. Toddler Anna delighted in the attention these "grandmas" gave her as they stitched and talked to her with love and warmth. They even let Anna explore the space under the quilting frame that was like a little cave with the quilt-top forming the "roof."

A New Quilt Top

One year a friend of one of the women gave the group a stack of ten quilt tops made by her recently deceased mother. The sewing ladies decided to quilt each top. A few were used in the annual church auction while others were purchased by people in the church.

When Anna and I were visiting a few weeks later, the ladies announced that they were giving the almost-finished quilt in the frame to me!

I was astonished! We weren't moving, which is often the occasion for special gifts. They wanted me to have the quilt as an expression of their love for me, Anna, Sarah and Mike.

The quilt has hung on the wall of every parsonage or home ever since, occupying a place of honor and pieced remembrance from the hearts of loving women.

One Night

Recently, I was looking at the quilt thinking how it has been the backdrop for many Christmas trees and pictures of Sarah and Anna. I marveled at the hundreds of tiny stitches holding the quilt together.
There is power in each stitch, for if one or two come out or break, the quilt will pucker, hang unevenly, and its beauty will be compromised.

I reflected on the power of other tiny things - how an inch-sized postage stamp can carry the range of sentiments from one person to another. How the small cap on my tire holds the air and maintains pressure so I can drive my car. The tip of my pen enables me to record my thoughts on paper.

Jesus, too, speaks of the power of small items to explain the kingdom using a mustard seed, yeast, salt and a pearl. Yeast shows how faith will grow and expand (Matthew 13:31-33). The value of life in the kingdom is more valuable than hidden treasure or a pearl (Matthew 12:44-45). Salt reflects how Christians shine for God by brining out the best in others (Matthew 5:13-14).

Look around as you go about your day. What tiny objects do you find? What is the value of these small items? I can think about the importance of sugar crystals or drops of cream that flavor many cups of coffee each morning.

Every single day I enjoy the quilt given with so much love by the women at Center Church. I notice the importance of each stitch that holds the layers of fabric and batting together reminding me that tiny beginnings described by Jesus are the nature of faith.

Prayer: God, so many times in our lives we are consumed with big things - big house, big cars, big vacations. Help us step aside, alter our vision and bring us to an awareness of "tiny things" that can grow and deepen our faith, and trust in you. Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Swamp Walk - A Poem

Slivers of ice

On the surface of the creek  -

Thin geometric shapes

Forming a puzzle,

In chilly water on a




The swamp is part of Ritchey Woods, a forest at the edge of Fishers, Indiana. A great place to explore in the winter and warmer weather.