Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poems Are Like Patches of Fabric In A Quilt

Over the nearly forty years I have pieced quilts together, every step of the process has meaning: from finding a pattern, selecting and cutting fabric, sewing the pieces together by hand or machine, to the final stage of sewing the quilt top, batting and back fabric together. Reflecting on the recipient adds loving thoughts to the process. If the quilt is for someone unfamiliar, joy can come from beginning and completing a project of great beauty.

I find great pleasure from touching cloth through these construction stages. I liken it to the story of the woman who knew that if she touched only the hem of Jesus’ cloak she would experience healing from a twelve-year history of severe bleeding (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-35; Luke 8:40-56).

Touching fabric brings me into the healing presence of God. In late November, I began writing a series of poems that captured what I was doing during the days of preparation leading to Christmas. Although I’ve written poems in the past, these collections of words, stacked on top of each other like blocks, expressed a multitude of events, emotions, and experiences:
  • The joy of receiving a plate of Christmas cookies and candy 
  • Seeing bird nests in trees without leaves 
  • Reflecting about the pitcher resting in the baptismal fount at my church 
Many other moments throughout my day were recorded as poems.

These poems were gifts to me. I approach and complete all my writing as prayer. The words coming from God bring me comfort regardless of form – poetry or prose. These poems that came daily gave language to what I saw or encountered and became patches that eventually fit together to form a big quilt. Instead of fabric, poems—some long, some short, a few related to my past, most coming from the present—collectively brought comfort to my heart in much the same way a quilt does when I rest cozy under the tiny stitches that hold many pieces of fabric together.

I’ll share a few poems in the weeks ahead – scraps of comfort from words that come from God, not a store…pieced together with love.

For your reflection: What brings comfort to you?

Prayer: God, you come to use in many ways. Thank you for poems that are like stars in the sky reflecting the light of your presence in my life. Open our hearts to new ways we can receive you, recently as a baby on Christmas morning. With grateful and loving hearts we come to you. Amen.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Art Remains In Sarah's Hands

When I saw her

Long, slender fingers

Press and mold the


I returned to those

Early years

When small fingers

Drew and painted

And formed play dough

Into many shapes and forms.

Now she teaches art to eager students,

The same set of fingers

Move over lesson plans,

And give examples

Of artistic possibilities

And outcomes.

The art started in the nursery,

And continues

In the classroom,

Nearly four decades later.

(A poem written for my daughter, Sarah, after a recent visit.)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Thank You Note To A Book

Tweetspeak Poetry, a blog I follow, often gives poetry prompts with their weekly posts. Recently, they suggested we write a thank-you note in the form of poetry, a paragraph, or using pictures of your favorite books.

I decided to write short notes of gratitude to books that were significant to me in high school and when I was in my mid-twenties.

Early History with Books 

Books were not companions when I was a child. I received my first book, Now We Are Six, by A. A. Milne, for my sixth birthday from my father’s work colleague whom I’d never met.

I first visited the public library when I was thirteen years old. I checked out a stack of five books, the maximum allowed, every other week during the summer. At that time I wanted to be a nurse, so I read every book in the Cherry Ames, Nurse series.

Although I wanted to purchase my own books, opportunities to earn money were limited. I babysat occasionally, earning fifty cents an hour, but my earnings had to cover all of my desires. Saving for almost a year when I was a junior in high school, I was excited when I finally had enough money to purchase three books. I wish to thank them today.

Francie Nolan is the heroine in Betty Smith’s novel A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, published in 1943. The book chronicles Francie’s adventures growing up in the squalor and poverty of the Brooklyn slums. Francie is 11 when the story begins.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, details 13-year-old Anne’s experiences when she and her family were in hiding during World War 2. The annex where they lived was part of a house in Amsterdam.

The third book I bought was the newly released bestseller To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The story is narrated by Scout Finch, who was growing up in Maycomb County, a fictionalized place in Southern Alabama. Scout, who was ages six to nine in the book, lived with her father, Atticus, and her brother, Jem. Her mother died before the story began.

Gratitude to These Books 

These three books had a common factor of a young girl growing up in challenging circumstances, just like I was. Thanking these three books acknowledges others who were struggling and whose lives offered me encouragement. Anne, Francie, and Scout were companions during my high school years, resting between the pages of books that had a place of prominence on the small bookcase in my bedroom.

Even though I didn’t know real people named Scout, Francie, or Anne, these girls were alive to me as their characters developed. Their life experiences nurtured and brought me comfort day after day, helping me realize I was not alone as I faced challenges just like they did.

Gratitude to Books a Few Years Later 

When I was in my mid-twenties, I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s series of letters and diaries. Although I never met her, she showed me that a mother could write while taking care of a family and maintaining a house. Grateful for her inspiration through books I cherish, I continued to write as my family increased. Since I had no one who encouraged me, I appreciated her thoughts and reflections on writing amidst a busy life.

Thank You to Every Author 

Authors deserve my gratitude for supplying gaps in my life for companionship and encouragement through the characters they created. Though I have not written fiction, it brings me joy to imagine and hope that my writing can offer to a level of companionship and encouragement, just like others have given me.

For your Reflection:

What books hold significant places in your life and merit a “thank you”?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways that authors and their stories can offer encouragement, support, companionship, and identification, as we read and rest with their work. The gift of writing can bless abundantly those who read and reflect. Thank you for the way you care for us with books. Amen.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Study of Perseverance and Determination

One morning I awakened and looked out my second-floor bedroom window. Still sticks from winter, the trees offered a clear view of two blue jays constructing a cradle in one of the V-shaped junctions where two branches come together.

I watched intently as each bird carried a stick in its beak, adding to the nest. One of the birds dropped a stick just before it landed in the nest, and it twirled to the ground. Without hesitation, the bird flew down to the earth, retrieved the stick and made a successful deposit.

The birds also chose large, dried leaves to line the nest. One of the leaves reached over the sticks like a quilt or blanket rests over the edge of a crib.

During all this forming and fluttering in anticipation of their babies’ arrival, these two blue jays demonstrated perseverance, cooperation, persistence, and determination.

Every day I checked on their progress. I could see the nest getting bigger and bigger. Before long, I noticed the mother blue jay sitting on the nest, seemingly stuck by glue during a blustery spring day. I wondered when I would see little beaks opening.

Before the baby birds were born, spring leaves unfurled and filled the tree blocking my view. All I could see was a small part of the nest: the dangling brown leaf.

Maybe I’ve seen all I needed to see – perseverance, cooperation, persistence, and determination. I’ll ponder these attributes modeled so well by those two parents hard at work. And maybe, if I open the window every morning for the next few weeks and listen closely, I’ll hear the little ones cheep.

Prayer: God, thank you for the way your creatures demonstrate attributes that are important to life. Inspiration comes in many ways, including from animals you created whose lives we can watch. Amen.

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.