Sunday, September 24, 2017
My friend, Joyce, and I arrived early to an evening meeting at church. While we waited for others to come, she told me people ask her if she's still living in "that big house."
"I say, 'Yes I am,' wondering why so many friends think I need to move to a smaller place since John's in a memory care unit of a nursing home. It may be a bit big for one person, but I don't want to leave."
Words Embedded in the Home
I listened as Joyce described "that big house" where she wants to stay.
"We built the house seventeen years ago, when John retired from ministry. We'd lived in many parsonages during his career. Finally, we had an opportunity to build a home of our own. We could design each room with features we'd long desired.
"However, our home was extra special because of what was nailed on the studs between the insulation and the dry wall. A few months before construction of our house began, we sent letters containing index cards to our family and friends. We asked them to write a favorite scripture or blessing on the card.
Every day the mailman brought cards with scripture and words lovingly penned on each one. Finally, the day arrived when we gave 177 cards to the contractor and asked him to nail them on the boards forming the frame. We chose to put the cards in specific rooms. For example, the cards we received from children were put in rooms where our grandchildren would play and sleep.
"Whenever anyone suggests that I move to a smaller home or an apartment I can't even begin to imagine leaving a place where I feel surrounded by blessings and love from so many who celebrated with us when we built our first home."
"Oh, my, Joyce," I admired her creativity as she followed the prompting from God. "I don't think I've ever heard of people writing scripture or loving thoughts to include building a home. I can appreciate why you want to stay in the house for as long as you can!"
Joyce smiled, "I am thankful someone understands."
(Writing continues below picture of index cards on the frame of a room.)
The Builder of All Things Is God
Driving home from church that night, I thought about Joyce and the inner walls of her home. I've participated in many house blessings, but this house was graced from the inside out.
Having lived in many parsonages, I can identify with the excitement John and Joyce felt building their own home. Even seventeen years later, Joyce still feels surrounded by God's love and the love of family and friends when she goes through each room.
Joyce and John's home reflects the words found in Hebrews 3:4 - "For every house is build by someone, but the builder of all things is God."
Joyce sent me a copy of a letter she and her husband wrote to each contributor. May it bless you as it must have blessed everyone who received it years ago:
Precious Lord, we give you praise and thanks for each individual who has provided a label to surround our home with their love and friendship. May your mercy, grace and peace surround each of them as well. It is also our prayer, Heavenly Father, that the cards may be a blessing and witness to all who read them - especially the workers and the neighbors who check the progress. If just one person, after reading what you share, would have a new relationship with You, we would rejoice even more. Bless the reader as well as the sender. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What scripture verses would you write if someone sent you this letter?
2.What scripture would you want included in your home?
3. Could you add a verse to your home or apartment, even though it's already built, as a way to retroactively pray for your home to be blessed by God?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for the ways others rejoice in tangible ways with celebrations in our lives. Joyce and John's home was blessed structurally and spiritually with love from many friends and family who wanted them to feel your presence always. Thank you for their generosity of thought and prayer that continues to nurture Joyce each day. Amen.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
"Nonnatus House, midwife speaking" is the friendly greeting people hear when they call the convent where nuns and midwives live in London's East End.
"Call the Midwife," the popular PBS series set in the fifties, chronicles the adventures of nuns and nurses who visit expectant mothers, providing London's poorest pregnant women with the best possible care.
I enjoy watching this show that is based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives at Nonnatus House. Each episode weaves back and forth between the drama of helping women give birth in their homes to watching the nuns chant in the chapel or pray in their rooms. Taking the love of God into dirty, one-room flats to help those in poverty is the mission of patient and caring midwives, some of whom are nuns.
The Rhythm of Liturgy
When I watch this show, I am reminded of those days in my early twenties when I thought God was calling me to be a nun. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I learned early in my life the sustaining presence of liturgy. Each Sunday the same words in prayers, responsive readings, and psalms, greeted me as I sat on a hard wooden pew for a service called "Morning Prayer." "Holy Communion" celebrated the first Sunday of the month, contained different liturgy from "Morning Prayer," but was equally nurturing.
The repetitive nature of the liturgy during my formative years, offered comfort and grounding as I came each week from a home that was chaotic and unpredictable. My attachment to God grew with each service and I came to depend on God being present for me when people were not.
Craving a Convent
As I was finishing undergraduate school, my heart often yearned to live in a house surrounded by prayer and people who were loving and kind - my perception of what a convent was like.
I learned that the Episcopal Church did indeed have monks and nuns, so the path seemed clear - for awhile anyway. When I completed graduate school, my search for a job began along with a pull toward service in God's name. However, I wanted to be a wife and mother, too. All of these conflicting thoughts churned my soul, leaving me confused and undecided for the future.
A Household of Peace
God intervened when I met a young man who eventually became my husband. This man wanted to be a pastor! Life in God's kingdom took an unexpected turn. Marrying Mike opened a new dimension of love, service and eventually, two sweet girls.
Mike and I created a house filled with prayer, love and kindness. However, my soul still sought weekly, familiar liturgy in worship. God's presence through liturgy carved deep paths that were sustaining and grounding when I was growing up and continued to be important now.
Occasionally, Mike and I attend an Episcopal Church, usually on Ash Wednesday or during a midday service on Wednesday. When I read the words in the Book of Worship for "Morning Prayer" and "Holy Communion," my soul is stirred to those days long ago sitting on a hard, wooden pew.
Liturgy for My Days
For my birthday last year, I asked for the book, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Each day I find a set of readings and prayers for reflection that wrap my soul in God. Some of the readings and prayers remind me of those when I was young listening to words that deepened my faith. I slip these on like a person dons a favorite sweater or comfortable pair of shoes. They offer assurance, even a sensation, that I am home - home in liturgy that brought comfort and peace early in life and continues today.
Watching "Call the Midwife" for the six-week-long season connects me to those days when thinking about entering a convent seemed the direction my life would follow. Even though I did not become a nun, Mike and I created a home filled with prayer, love and a focus on service to others - non unlike the daily practice of nuns who also pray, love and serve others.
The nuns in the series, along with my liturgy book, allow me to stay attentive to God, to practice my faith every day, and to spread God's love wherever I go - especially to the poor or those on the fringe.
Questions for Reflection
1. What moments, prayers, rituals or liturgy do you recall from your early memories of church?
2. Were they meaningful and formative to your faith?
3. How are they present in your faith practice today?
Prayer: God, You come to us in many ways. Sitting in church Sunday morning is a wonderful opportunity to hear Your Word proclaimed in sermon, prayers, readings and music.Even when we are young, Your presence can open our souls to life with You. Guide us in our faith to move closer to You, as we say the Lord's Prayer, participate in responsive readings, and proclaim our faith in creeds. All of these bring our hearts to You. Amen.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Choking back tears with a solid lump in my throat, I walked into the busy mall on Sunday afternoon. My mission was not pleasant and I wished I could be anywhere, but shopping at a mall.
My friend, Ann, and I have known each other since June of 1989, when Mike was assigned to pastor the church in Vincennes where Ann and her husband, Chuck, attended with their three children.
Shortly after we moved, Ann and I drove a group of children to church camp. We brought our own youngest children - my four-year-old daughter, Anna, and her three-year-old, Margaret - along for the ride.Soon these two were playing with their dolls in the back seat of Ann's van, beginning a friendship that would last the seven years of Mike's appointment.
Ann and I had a lot in common - faith and family were our priorities. Eventually, my oldest daughter, Sarah, became one of Ann's children's favorite babysitters. Our families were connected in many ways, sharing experiences in church and often during the week.
Bracelets, Cards, and Tears
Ann was the only person who came to say good-bye to us the day we moved in June of 1996. That was a sad day, one we both were dreading. However, we continued our friendship through exchanged letters, birthday and Christmas cards, and an occasional visit.
When Ann's beloved father died, I sent her a bracelet along with a note of condolence. When her dear mother died, I sent another bracelet and note. When my parents died, she sent three bracelets that are pictured above.
Now I was looking for a bracelet to honor her husband, who died six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
I cried so hard at home when I heard the news of Chuck's passing. He was a respected doctor in the community as well as being a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. I wondered how I could get through the jewelry counter of a store fielding inquiries from helpful sales clerks.
Perusing the jewelry counter in three stores, I finally found a bracelet - one with two silver strands clasped together - a perfect visual for the devotion and love Ann and Chuck shared.
At home, I wrapped a note of love and prayer around the box containing the bracelet, drove to the post office and sent the package to my dear friend.
More Cards, More Tears
My trip to choose a bracelet wasn't the first time this summer I found myself in tears at a store. In late May, a friend of my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer and given two to four years to live. At age 33, this diagnosis was devastating. Off I went to the Hallmark store to purchase a card for him and for his mother.
Standing in front of rows of cards, "for serious illness" I started to cry.
"How am I ever going to make it to the check-out counter and pay for my choices with tears coming down my cheeks?" I wondered.
After looking at many cards, considering their words over and over, I finally made two choices. Sniffling, dabbing my eyes with a tissue, clearing my throat, I managed to pay for my selections and make it out the door.
Compassion, Comfort, Companionship
Life brings these moments that touch us to our core. Sudden illness of seemingly healthy people awakens our compassion and channels our desire to help in any way possible to bring comfort and offer companionship along a road that has more questions than answers - a path that brings deep loss, sadness, disbelief, despair and grief.
How do we manage through these days that are tough to navigate? Psalm 46:1 offers immediate direction - "God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."
On July 30, I wrote how how God gave me four ways to stay solidly connected to God during an extended time when several people about whom I cared deeply were experiencing significant illness or challenges in relationships. I refer you to that link (see below) as those directives continue to lead me through each day, providing me with strength to face whatever comes my way - grief or joy, happiness or despair, longing or hope.
Prayer: God, these days keep us seeking You with every breath we take. Inhaling Your presence does help by offering strength and the ability to persevere when times are tough. We can weep and lament in Your presence for we know You receive all of our needs and thoughts with love. Wrap us now in Your arms, hold us close, remind us we are loved by You, for in You we can stand firm in faith and be sustained all of our days. Amen.
For further reading:
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Sunday, August 27, 2017
"Of course, I will finish the half-made sundresses," I said to my friend, Lori, as we sat in the screened-in back porch of her home talking on a hot summer Sunday afternoon.
Lori's mother, Beth, died after a fall two weeks prior to our time together. I was unable to attend the funeral in Louisville, but wanted to give Lori an expression of my sympathy.
Baking a batch of muffins filled with blueberries I'd picked earlier in the week, seemed to me a delicious and heartfelt way to extend love to my friend who was so close to her mother.
During my visit, she mentioned that Beth, a skilled seamstress, had cut out sundresses to make for her two great-granddaughters ages three and five. She died before finishing them. Always eager for a sewing project, I volunteered to pick up where Beth had left off so these little girls could have a final gift from their beloved great-grandmother.
Working on the sundresses brought back memories of all of the dresses, skirts and blouses I sewed for my daughters when they were young. As I gathered fabric for the skirt and matched the facing in the top my thoughts wandered - I wondered what made Beth choose solid pink seersucker for one dress and a gray print for the other? What were her thoughts as she sewed?
Did she realize what a treasure she was giving to two little girls who would always remember their great-grandmother's love as they swirled and danced and played in those dresses?
Be A Link
Sewing the straight seams, then rounding the curves of the inner facing, I recalled the word "link" from my dear friend, Annabel Hartman. Annabel used this word to show how we can be in service to others, by being a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we would be on our own.
Listening to the rhythmic hum of the machine matching the beat of my heart, I felt honored to be the link between Beth and the sundresses I carefully and lovingly sewed.
Being a link is a role that is not an initiator, but a role in the middle, the one who is important for the completion of a task. For example, holding the door open for someone behind you demonstrates a link between you and the other, helping the person make progress along his or her path. Praying for someone forms a series of links from her/his and her/his need, through us, to God on her/his behalf.
Jesus Our Link
Jesus was a link between God and those he encountered in the marketplace, villages or by the sea. Jesus came to give "life - life in all its fullness" (John 10:10) as he continuously pointed others to God. Jesus, used metaphors such as "I am the gate for the sheep," (John 10:7), "I am the good shepherd," (John 10:11), and , "I am the bread of life," (John 6:35) to show he was a link between God and those he met, being the way "to life in all of its fullness," inviting all to come to him.
Although Beth wasn't able to finish her project of love, I was happy to step in, to be a link to what she began, finishing those sundresses - gifts of remembrance to her great-granddaughters.
Questions for Your Reflection
1. Think about the ways you can be a link to others - praying for someone, completing an unfinished project, take a meal to a person in need, sending a card, offering a smile - all of these actions bring fullness of living in Christ to others.
2. Choose one action you can take to form a link and follow through with it this week.
Prayer: God, we are surround by people every day. Guide us to ways we can be links, as we want to spread Your love. Increase our awareness of those we see who may need a glimpse of You through our actions. Being a link is a way to model Your actions, deepening our connection to You.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
This past Lent, the sermon series at church was "There's Something in the Water." Each week one of the pastors spoke about Jesus' interaction with water.
For example, Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). He offered the woman at the well life-giving water so that she would never be thirsty again (John 4:1-42). The pool at Bethsaida was a place where those who were sick came for healing (John 5:1-9). Jesus calmed the sea when the disciples were frightened and worried the boat would capsize (Mark 4:35-41).
"There was something in the water" in each of these events that brought about change - celebration at the wedding, new life for the woman at the well, healing at the pool, and peace for the disciples.
There's something in the water for me too when I paint or swim.
The Transforming Power of Water for Me
I keep a cup of water next to the paper where I paint so I can have clean brushes in between color changes. Since painting is a way I pray, there is surely something in the water when color, line and form "transform into language" for my heart. God directs my art and guides my hand with expression.
Swimming is a forty-three-year-long pattern of exercise for me. I swim laps five days a week. In the water I am held, even embraced as the water flows over me. The water is a container for thoughts and emotions that often get stirred when I go from one end of the pool to the other.
Several years ago, I was dealing with a lot of anger. Each time I swam I was able to dissolve the angry energy, through the act of swimming, enabling me to reach a place of peace when I finished. During those days, the anger often returned the next day, but sometimes the relief lasted more than a week. I never knew when the anger would return, but I knew that if I cold get to the pool, relief was available in that water.
Emotional relief, expression, language were active in the water that was a significant part of my life.
The Transforming Power of Water for Others
Many people like to go to lakes or oceans where the rhythmic cycle of waves approaching then receding offers calm. The energy of a lake or the ocean can envelop and soothe a heart that is aching or give strength during times of weakness - even companionship for every day life.
Transformation happened when the water at the wedding enabled the guests to continue the celebration. Taking time with Jesus at the well, the Samaritan woman gained eternal life as she drank life-giving water. The man who waited by the pool at Bethesda for healing from a 38 year-old illness was made new after his encounter with Jesus. The disciples, filled with fear, learned that trusting Jesus during a storm gave them new courage and deepened their faith.
Transformation comes to me when I paint. Whatever joy, sadness, frustration, confusion, anger, forgiveness or gratitude I'm carrying in my heart, is taken to God and baptized in the blend of water and color. The process of design and painting brings change to my heart.
Finally, my experience of complete immersion in water always leaves me a different person from when I begin my laps to when I end them.
There's something transformative in the water for me and for many others. Is there something transformative in the water for you?
Transformation can be hard to experience when we deal with life circumstances. The New Testament offers examples of how change can happen with Jesus close by. We can experience change, gain great freedom, and increased faith and begin new pathways of thought, perspective, and life, when we experience Christ.
1. Where do you experience transformation - the woods, at the ocean, sitting in a comfortable chair, at a lake, in the mountains, while baking, when walking?
2. How does transformation come to you?
3. What does transformation mean in your life?
Prayer: Strengthen us, God, and give courage when transformation is needed. Amen.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Near the curb, sitting on the ground,
I felt something on my left thigh.
Reaching down to brush it away,
I saw a large, black ant
Land on the brick
Next to my left foot.
A determined creature,
The ant crossed brick after brick
Occasionally dipping off the surface
Falling into the gravel pressed between each brick
To form the road.
I wondered how the ant could
Successfully cross this
Uneven path of pedestrian traffic,
But the large, black ant safely made it
Up the curb onto another grassy area.
Where someone else might
Feel something of their leg,
Brush it away and start the ant
On another busy path.
(I wrote "Disturbance" while I was sitting on a curb, waiting to listen to a lecture during our week in Chautauqua, New York. I was impressed by the ant's determination to cross the street despite people walking.)