Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Shift In Perspective

One day last summer, when I had multiple appointments and several places to go. I started my day swimming at the YMCA. I went early hoping to get in and out quickly, but every time I tried to slip out the door, I kept seeing people I knew and wanted to greet each one.

Finally reaching the exit, I pushed open the heavy door and crossed the parking lot. As I neared my car and reached for the keys, I heard my name.

Noticing someone from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee at the grocery store down the street from where I live. Elizabeth worked in the floral department. When I made a purchase, she always took time to wrap the flowers carefully, adding a ribbon to bind the bouquet.

Elizabeth liked to talk, often complaining about working conditions at the store. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop, I was in a hurry and didn't want to take time to visit. Since the floral department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid seeing her. In all honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going, just delayed.

Here she was at the Y calling my name. We talked for a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour. Meanwhile I was getting restless, worrying about being late for my 9:30 art class.

Finally she said, "I think it was a God thing I saw you today."

Oh, my! I did not think seeing her was a God thing for me because I w anted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

I made it to my art class and to other commitments, but I kept thinking of my conversation with Elizabeth. I was disturbed because she thought seeing me was of God and I thought seeing her was a delay.

I asked God to forgive my impatience and help me manage my time more wisely when I had a full agenda.

I was thankful Elizabeth regarded seeing me as part of God's design for her day. She didn't explain why, but I noticed a few weeks later, she had joined the Y and was participating in one of the popular water aerobics classes.

Perhaps she was hesitant to enter an unfamiliar building or self-conscious because exercise had not been part of her life. Seeing a familiar face and receiving my encouragement must have been exactly what she needed to enroll.

We never know when we leave the house who we will encounter or how we will be perceived by those we meet.

Prayer: God, help us receive all we meet in your name and may our words and actions reflect your love. Amen.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hasten: What Elie Wiesel Taught About Prayer

Well-known  Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 2, 2016. He was a prolific  writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day. Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May, 1944 to January, 1945) and Buchenwald (January, 1945 to April, 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation in other forms, made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother, and younger sister, died in May, 1944, and his father in January, 1945.

Practicing His Faith

Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to the study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.

Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.

Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented:

    "I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)

I was taken by his words, "... seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later."  Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.

Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me  his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hope that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.

Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer

Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do we have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe that love will come?

I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words, "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful will bring comfort until peace comes.

Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.

Jesus, the Messiah has come. We do not have the urgent desire for his coming as Elie Wiesel did. Do we take Jesus for granted? Do we live the fullness of life in Christ as Wiesel anticipated would happen if the Messiah came?

What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we encounter?

Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong - I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it thorough.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your word. Let us believe, too, that as we pray with faith, trust and belief, we can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day

Friends - I am enjoying the holiday today. "Gather the Pieces" will return next week. I pray you feel God's presence each day. Jacquie

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week, I received a phone call from a friend, Susan, who used to live in Vincennes,  where we lived before moving to Fishers.

We taught together at Vincennes University, shared an office for a semester, and developed a friendship that included studying God's word and praying for each other.

When Mike was appointed to serve a church in Fishers, we corresponded frequently and continued to pray for each other and our families. Over the years, the number of letters declined as she moved and purchased a winter home out of state. We kept in touch on birthdays and at Christmas.

Her call came unexpectedly, but with joy. We talked and caught up on our families and places in life. Her main purpose for contacting me was to ask for prayer when she had surgery the following week. She chose two scriptures to guide her through the days of hospitalization and recovery.

Praying with Scripture

"I'll pray for you using the scripture. We will be united before God," I said.

She liked my idea and gave me these two passages:

Psalm 34:4 - "I prayed to the Lord and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears."

Nahum 1:7 - "The Lord is good; he protects his people in times of trouble."

When I brought Susan's name to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name.

Psalm 34:4 - "Susan prayed to the Lord and he answered her; he freed her from all her fears."

Nahum 1:7 - "The Lord is good; he protects Susan, his child, in times of trouble."

Praying for Susan

Praying for Susan using scripture helped me connect with her and with God in a way that added depth to our friendship and closeness to God during her time of need. I was honored to pray using words God gave her.

Next time someone asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask them if there is a scripture to which he/she feels close. I will use those words as I remember them daily.

Even though Susan lives five hours away, I feel close to her heart and united in prayer.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you give us many ways to come to you. Thank you for reminding me that I can pray for others using your holy word. Amen.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

"How A Simple Prayer "Jesus Come" Brings Freedom

Every Saturday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I swim a mile at the fifty meter outside pool at the Jordan Y. I like the challenge of an extra twenty-five meters of most in-door pools.

Usually I begin my swim using hand paddles made of thick plastic and a float between my knees. Strengthening my upper body happens when I swim using only my arms.

Last Saturday, my fingers were getting sore and a little numb as I completed the thirty-sixth lap, a half-mile. I slipped the paddles and the float onto the pool  deck and began the next thirty-six laps with the freestyle stroke. Swimming into the fullness of the water, I felt my energy shift.

My uncomfortable fingers locked onto the paddles by thick rubber tubes became a metaphor for the way my mind was interlaced with negative thoughts that seemed to burrow in my brain like worms going through tunnels in the dirt. With each stroke I felt a burden lift and a feeling of freedom emerge as I went from one side of the pool to the other, adding laps with each stroke.

When I first began my swim, I wondered how I would ever emerge with refreshment that I usually
experience. Negative thoughts increase suffering and suffering weighs heavily. Removing the paddles
released the pain in my hands and heart, allowing for Jesus to come, my mantra for a dozen laps.

Sometimes a simple one-or-two-word phrase or mantra becomes a prayer asking God to adjust my heart and move on to healthier thoughts. Swimming through the water, my hands moving like a paddle, my legs the motor, the water washes over me, bathing my body in cleansing ways.

When I touched the deck after 72 laps and jumped out of the pool meeting the chilly mid-60's degree temperature, I felt renewed and restored. Walking to the basket where the floats are kept, I looked once again at the water holding all of the negativity I released.

I am thankful for the way God worked when my simple prayer, "Jesus come" was received from a heart struggling to float.

Prayer: God, thank you for the way two simple words can summon depths of your healing balm to a troubled soul. Remind us we can always come to you, with simple ways that can reach the expanse of your love. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Baking Communion Bread

A few years ago I received an email from one of the pastors of the church I attend asking me to bake five loaves of bread for communion the next Sunday. Five loaves seemed overwhelming, so I agreed to two.

I remember I hardly felt worthy to bake bread as I was dealing with with anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness, and confusion as well as forgiveness in the tangled web I imaged my life. I was afraid all of my feelings would transfer to the dough I kneaded and molded.

Baking bread is usually one of the ways I connect with God. I even wrote a day-long retreat "Praying with Bread."

That day, however, I was in a different state of mind. I went through the motions, mechanically, not prayerfully or reverently, gathering and combining numerous ingredients, putting the smooth dough in my favorite brown glass bowl for the first rising. The bowl was the last of a nesting set we received forty years ago for a wedding gift. The bowl held hundred of batches of dough, but that day's batch was the first to become the body of Christ.

The dough quickly doubled in size. I took half the dough from the bowl, powdered a handful of flour on the sticky places, molded a circle and placed in a buttered aluminum pan. I repeated the procedure with the remaining dough.

Before placing the pans in the oven, I studied the loaves. In those mounds of flour I saw the yeast of anger, loneliness, resentment, anxiety and other areas of disconnect in my life, along with forgiveness, blended into bread for God's people on Sunday morning. Oh, my!

When I arranged the two loaves in the over I prayed that all negative feelings would bake out of me and right to the heart of Jesus, whose body I formed that day.

Sunday Morning

I walked into the sanctuary the next day and found a pew close to the front in sight of the two oval forms of bread covered with embroidered white cloths resting in the middle of the altar. I thought about the sugar, flour, yeast and milk, which I had plucked from noisy grocery shelves days before, now transformed into one of the most meaningful aspects of Christian liturgy in a quiet church on Sunday morning.

Then I recalled my prayer the day before, as those loaves entered the oven. As I sat in that pew and examined my heart, I realized even before receiving communion, I felt peace. The negativity had burned away, my feelings now resting in Jesus' heart.

Mike and I assisted the pastors serving communion. I baked the body of Christ, and gave the body of Christ to those attending, completing a holy cycle.

Maundy Thursday

Sometimes during Holy Week I think about the bread served on that first Maundy Thursday. Who baked the loaf of bread Jesus used that night? Maybe the person was someone like me, filled with anxiety, anger, loneliness and other troubling concerns. Maybe they felt that same sense of release and relief in baking the bread? Someone always prepares the bread to offer God's people - I pray each baker always finds release as they pass along through the body of Christ, a blessing and peace to all who believe.

Prayer: Thank you God for the way ordinary tasks can bring us into your presence. You are in all we do. Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

If You Find This Letter

Two years ago our family celebrated the marriage of our oldest daughter, Sarah, to her fiance, Ryan.. We met several of their friends, including, Adam, who introduced them.

As we talked, Adam said, "I really appreciated the letter you wrote me a few years ago when I took Sarah to the airport. I'd never received a letter!"

Never received a letter? Ever?

Astonished, I asked a few questions and discovered that Adam is from Denver, (where Sarah and Ryan lived). He had always lived in Denver so there wasn't any reason for anyone in his family to write him. So the only person far enough to write was a mother in the Midwest, grateful for his kindness toward her daughter who was living in his hometown, hundreds of miles away from Indianapolis.

Letters and Hanna Brencher

Following our return from the wedding, Adam's comment stuck with me. I made a trip to Barnes and Noble to get a book for a friend having surgery. and found Hanna Brencher's book If You Find This Letter.

Letters were important to Hannah. She cherished the letters her mother wrote when she was attending college. In fact, when she moved to New York City following graduation for a job, she decorated the walls of her apartment with letters from her mother and friends.

"Even after I packed up the letters and took them home, " Hannah wrote, "I always wondered what it might be like to give something like that - a bulging package of love letters - to someone I don't even know. To someone who might never get that sort of thing otherwise. Stranger or not we all need the same kind of reminders sometimes. Your're worthy. You're golden."

In her search to find meaning, purpose and direction in a large city, she wondered if other people would like to receive a letter as a way  to bring love and affirmation to their lives. Riding the subway gave her ample opportunity to observe the cross-section of people living in New York. She focused on those who looked forlorn and lost, an image of how she felt inside as she adjusted to a new job and acclimated to a new home.

Writing Letters

Hannah wrote letters to people she saw describing her struggles, trying to find her way emotionally, professionally, as she tried to create a sense of place in a large city. She tucked the letter in an envelope and wrote on the outside, "If you find this letter ...... then it's for you." She placed the letters in subway seats, on bathroom sinks, slipped a few into coat pockets in department stores, in fitting rooms, in the library, all over town.

Over time, the act of writing letters to hundreds of people brought her to a place of peace and purpose, and the loneliness that seemed to follow her every step since she arrived  disappeared.

My Letter Writing

I enjoy writing letters too. I can often express thoughts from my heart more deeply when I write. My daughters who live far away, receive letters from me regularly. While reading the book, I decided to follow Hannah's example not only as a writing exercise, but also an activity to expand my heart and deepen compassion toward those strangers I encounter.

I reminded myself each morning to be alert to someone to whom I could write a letter. I held the image of that person in my heart throughout the day and when I had a moment, I wrote a letter I  would "give" them. A few of the people who "received" my letters include a woman at the post office carrying two large parcels one under each arm, a neighbor who has yellow chairs in the front yard, a young woman walking into the library with a coffee cup held high and a large book under her arm.

Like Hannah, however, I grew weary of writing letters in a notebook and carrying them in my bag. I decided to duplicate Hannah's method; write a letter, put it in an envelope, and drop the envelope wherever I went. At least someone will receive my words of encouragement and love.

I wrote ten letters with the message below:

     "Dear Friend,
    The cloth heart is a reminder that you are loved just the way you are. You are valued and loved for all you do. Your life matters to so many and the love you give sustains and provides comfort.
                                                                             A Friend

I folded the letter and tucked inside a heart I cut from fabric scraps. I also included on a separate piece of paper this sentence of explanation" "A letter of encouragement and love to a stranger." - based on Hannah Brencher's book, "If You Find This Letter."

Addressing the envelope according to Hannah's directive - "If you find this letter it is yours," I  set off with my bundle.

Where Did I Place My Letters?

The ten letters I wrote found homes in a restaurant, a confessional booth in a Catholic Church, at a local YMCA, a grocery store, on a stack of books at the library, and in the pocket of a jacket at Target.

Interestingly, during the two-week time I was delivering letters, I received three letters in the mail; one from a former neighbor, one in the form of a picture from my nine-year-old friend, and a thank you note.

My story with Adam's letter has come full circle. Writing a letter of gratitude to him left an imprint on his heart. His comment awakened me to Hannah's book reinforcing the importance of the lost art of letter writing.

Reflection Question

1. Who among your circle of friends, family and acquaintances would benefit from a handwritten note? Take a moment, put your thoughts on paper and mail an envelope of compassion and care.

Prayer: God, you give us the example of Paul, who wrote letters to people in the churches he established. He offered encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and blessing to each since he was unable to regularly visit. Let us model our ways of expression to others following Paul so we can have a record of thoughts and feelings toward others they can reference forever. Putting our hearts on paper leaves a cherished legacy to the recipient. Amen.