Sunday, November 19, 2017

Gratitude All Year


Once again we are almost entering that time of year when we are encouraged to remember our blessings and give thanks. I've noticed, however, that I am reminded year round to give thanks and value the offering of gratitude.

Benefits of Gratitude

Derrick Carpenter in his article "The Science Behind Gratitude and How It Can Change Your Life" notes that those who have a regular practice of acknowledging those things for which they are grateful:

         - experience more positive emotion,
         - feel more alive,
         - sleep better,
         - express more compassion and kindness,
         -have stronger immune systems,
         - have increased life satisfaction.

He continues that expressing gratitude each day can be as simple as writing down a few words, and putting the paper in a gratitude jar.

Write It Down

A feature in the Wellness section of a recent TIME magazine (October 2, 2017), "New Ways to Become Healthier and Happier,"  suggests, "Write a thank you note, reflecting on a friend's impact can brighten your day and theirs," and "Jot down what you're grateful for. Doing so has been linked to greater feeling of happiness."

Five Things to Smile About Each Month

The popular "O" magazine, Oprah's publication, features a whole page in each issue called "The Gratitude Meter." In the middle of the page is a circle with the phrase, "Five things we're smiling about this month." An arrow points to a paragraph that describe  the gratitude represented in each photo.

We don"t have to write for Oprah to do the same, finding at least five things to smile about each month.

Gratitude Alphabet

One of my favorite bloggers,  Amanda Blake Soule (Soule Mama), has a new book that came out last month called The Creative Family Manifesto: Encouraging Imagination and Nurturing Family Connections. She devotes one chapter to gratitude and suggests trying a gratitude alphabet. "Write each letter of the alphabet on a large piece of paper and then decide something for which we are grateful corresponding to the letter."

Children and adults can enjoy this activity. Using the gratitude alphabet at various times of the year nurtures an  awareness of thanksgiving.

Cooking Gratitude

Lilly Burana wrote "Cooking Up Gratitude" in the July/August, 2016, issue of Women's Day describing how cooking a meal for her family used to be a chore she dreaded. One day she remembered that Sunday dinner at her grandmother's house meant wonderful comfort food.

She noted her grandmother "enjoyed cooking, her skills honed as the young, widowed mother of six." Lilly remembered reading this poem on a plaque her grandmother had hanging above her sink.

          "Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell.

           While others may go hungry, we're eating very well.

            With home, health and happiness, I shouldn't want to fuss;

            By the stack of evidence, God's been very good to us."

My Experience of Gratitude

I presented a talk in September to a group of clergy spouses about "Staying Together Through The Tough Times." One of my suggestions follow:

"Live with gratitude. Keep a list each day of things for which you are grateful. Gratitude offers a different perspective than reality - that all is not overwhelming and difficult. Gratitude encourages an awareness of God's presence, provision and faithfulness, and recognizes goodness even when life is difficult."

The Gratitude Drawer

Six years ago I went to an antique store in nearby Noblesville, Indiana, and purchased for five dollars an old, narrow desk drawer, just the right size to hold 4 x 6 index cards cut in half. (See picture above.) I stamped each day of the year at the top of the card. Underneath the date, I record in a few words my gratitude for that day. I look forward to the time I spend reflecting on the events, people or experiences I want to remember.

Every Day Throughout The Year

Making gratitude an everyday practice, not just in November when Thanksgiving is celebrated, can fill our hearts with God's abundant blessing. Try some of these ideas so that you might experience more positive emotions, sleep better, smile bigger and feel more alive.

For Your Reflection

1. How can you develop an awareness of those parts of everyday life for which you are grateful?
2. Writing in a journal or on index cards can be reminders of God's provision and goodness throughout the year. Try it!

Prayer: Thank you, God, seems inadequate to describe the way you provide for us. We read numerous examples in the Old and New Testaments how persons in seemingly dire circumstances were given provisions to survive and thrive just like you do for us today. Guide our hearts to offer thanks to you for your generosity throughout our days. Amen.




Sunday, November 12, 2017

God Is In The Laundry

Many churches in the Indianapolis area support a homeless ministry by hosting fourteen homeless people in their church building for a week. Family Promise, is a nationwide organization that helps families in practical ways, starting with providing temporary housing. The families (adults and children) spend the day at the downtown office, where volunteers and staff help them find permanent housing and jobs. The families return to the host church close to 6:00 p.m., where they have dinner, play games and sleep in  Sunday school rooms converted to bedrooms.

Church members cook meals, drive the guests to and from the church, and plan activities for the children after dinner. The church provides towels and bedding for the guests. One Sunday after the guests left, I volunteered to take a couple of bags of laundry home.

Finding The Bags Of Laundry

I chose two bags, both of which were bulging in asymmetrical ways. Trying to keep my balance while carrying these bundles up the stairs was a challenge. I had to shift my position to keep them from toppling over my head and forcing me downstairs. However, the minute I picked up the plastic bags and held them to my chest, my heart was filled with God's presence.

God's Presence

I received with gratitude God's unexpected appearance doing an ordinary task. I took the bags home, dumping the towels, sheets and mattress covers on the floor, starting what would end up being six loads of laundry.

When I loaded the washer, I wondered who had used the towel or sheet I held. I asked myself, "What circumstances led them to become homeless?" I thought about the children who slept on the sheets, knowing how disruptive moving every seven days to another church can be to their emotional development and security.

The complexity of the physical, social, and psychological toil homelessness can bring filled my heart with prayer and compassion for these nameless people. I could touch them through the remnants of their stay and offer prayer as they moved on to another church.

When I folded the clean and dry sheets, towels and mattress pads, I prayed for the person who will use each of them in the future. I prayed that he or she would feel God close during this time of disruption and crisis. I prayed for a smooth transition from homelessness to home.

A Benedictine Experience

While I folded the stacks of bedding, I was reminded of an article I read in the March, 2004, issue of Oprah's "O" magazine. The author, Sara Davidson, describes her experience at a Benedictine abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She was able to participate in worship services and eat with the sisters. She learned all work at the abbey was completed prayerfully and with love. Her last responsibility before leaving was to change the linens on the bed she used

She started by tugging at the sheet corners, trying to hurry along. Then she remembered how the nuns "put love into the cheese, the flowers, and the fruit they grow, the animals they care for, the shawls they weave, and the honey they make. Why not put love into the linens, for the next guest who arrives feeling shy, uncertain, expectant? I slow down and smooth the pillows gently, tenderly, as Mother Margaret Georgina had suggested handling the cheese. The material remembers." (page 242)

I have the assurance that the material for the next person will hold the love and prayer I put into washing and folding each towel, sheet and mattress pad. The material will remember and in a way directed by God will be conveyed to the next adult or child.

Thoughts for Reflection

1. Everyday tasks like washing, folding sheets, making a bed, cooking dinner can seem mundane, but when done with love and an awareness of God's presence can add meaning and blessing to others as well as yourself.

Here are a few suggestions of short prayers to say while you are completing laundry or cooking:

.God I pray your blessing on the person who will sleep under these sheets/use these towels/wear these clothes.  Come to them and give them what they need.

Thank you, God for this food I am preparing. Let it strengthen the bodies of those who will enjoy it, so they may be able to complete their work, learn in school and relax at the end of the day. I pray for those who do not have regular meals that agencies and programs may provide for their needs.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Confession at 22,000 Feet

A few years ago, Mike and I went to visit our daughter, Sarah, who at the time, lived in Denver. We walked down the ramp to board the plane and a man wearing cowboy boots turned to me and said, "If you're following me, I don't know where I am going." I laughed taking the edge off the anxiety that often comes when I fly.

We happened to share the row with this gentleman. Mike sat on the aisle, I was in the middle and the gentleman had the window seat. Mike brought a book to read, I had a small quilt to make and the man brought nothing to do.

Shortly after we took off, he started talking to me. He was going to Denver to spend the week fishing with his son, whom he had not seen for two years.

"I've been a truck driver for 30 years. I drive all over the country for a large company," he offered.

I asked a few questions about his work and told him what Mike and I did professionally. That opened him. He began.

"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. I fought in Viet Name. I saw and did a lot of things I didn't want to do."

I set my stitching aside to look him straight in his pale, blue eyes. He continued.

"I went to church, but people judged me for riding a motorcycle, for the clothes I wore, my tattoos, my job, my divorce. I want to be married, but I can't seem to hang on to a woman. Takes a special woman to stay married to a truck driver. I regret my marriage didn't last. I didn't go back to church. I feel what happens to me after I die is between me and God."

I listened and felt like I was hearing a confession. I told him I was sorry for his experience at church. I regret he didn't try another church, and will only know God when he dies.

He continued to talk as I pieced a small quilt for a baby shower planned for when I return.

"My wife didn't want the boys so I took them and raised them best I could. We skype and stay in touch that way."

"Sounds like you did a good job. Spending a week together will give you lots of time to talk."

"Yes, we'll have fun in the peace and quiet. I've got bear spray just in case!" he laughed.

"Oh my! I pray you have a wonderful vacation."

"Thank you. We will."

Our conversation ended just as the "fasten seat belts sign" flashed and the pilot alerted us the plane was making the final descent.

I took a few pins out of the little quilt, which grew as I talked. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence, and my piecing provided a holy backdrop for the outpouring of this gentleman's heart. As I folded the quilt to tuck away in my bag, I knew that all I heard and carried to God was recorded in the stitches holding the fabric together.

Questions for Reflection

1. Have you been in a place where someone has opened up to you talking about their concerns either about faith or life circumstances?

2. How have you responded? Have you set aside what you are doing and given the person your full attention? How does your response reflect the way God listens to us?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for putting me next to this stranger who had a need to express thoughts that lived deep in his heart. Help me always to stay present to those whom I encounter and keep me mindful when I need to pause and listen to one of your children. Amen.






Sunday, October 29, 2017

A WNBA Player, Philippians 4:13 and Me - What do we have in common?


"Tamika, come inside. It's time for dinner!"

No response.

"Tamika."

The three-year-old who would later become a basketball star in high school and go on to play for the University of Tennessee and eventually in the WNBA, was not ignoring her father. She didn't hear him. Shortly afterwards, Tamika Catchings was diagnosed with significant hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids.

Until she was seven, the aids were not a deterrent to everyday life. However, when she started second grade, someone made fun of her speech, her hearing aids and her twice-weekly departure from the classroom for speech therapy. She felt different and often walked home crying at the end of school.

Tamika Catchings, the featured speaker at  St. Luke's United Methodist Church one Sunday morning in late summer, began her message with the above story.

Philippians 4:13

The scripture she used was Philippians 4:13 - "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." She described the challenges she faced in elementary school, moving four times before she was seven, including a year in Italy where her father played for an Italian professional basketball team; her parents' divorce when she was in the sixth grade; adjusting to life with a hearing loss, especially after she threw her hearing aids into a grassy field one day on the way home from school.

Each time, she wove in the verse from Philippians, that she can do all things through him who gives her strength.

Her parents couldn't afford to purchase another set of aids, so she had to sit in the front row of the classroom and concentrate intensely while the teacher spoke. She became a proficient lip-reader. Despite these difficulties, she excelled in academics through junior high and high school, and on the basketball court as well. God gave her strength.

When she was in the seventh grade, she told her parents she wanted to play in the NBA (there was no WNBA at that time). They replied, "If anyone can, you can!" She believed them and took on the words of Philippians 4:13. Despite her hearing loss, and occasional injuries, she focused on how God could help in all parts of her life. "I can do all things" encouraged her daily, enabling her to reach seemingly insurmountable goals.

My Experience with Philippians 4:13

Reflecting on Tamika Catching's story later Sunday afternoon brought back a time when this scripture carried me through a series of difficult days in January 2013.

My father died on Friday, January 11 of that year. Shortly after Mike and I arrived in Columbus, Ohio, for his funeral the following Tuesday, my mother entered hospice care, the night of my father's visitation.

On the way to my father's funeral, Mike and I decided to stop by the nursing home to check on my mother. When we entered the facility, I asked for a chaplain to come to her room, as I felt the need of spiritual support along this uncharted path.

I walked down the hallway as if I were walking into a lion's den, not knowing what to expect due to the complex, dysfunctional relationship I shared with my parents. With each step, I kept breathing deeply God'swords, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

The Presence of God Gives Strength

God's presence came quickly preparing me for what I would encounter.

We found my mother agitated, thrashing from side-to-side in bed and moaning as if in pain. I pulled a chair to her side and put my hand on her left shoulder just as the chaplain appeared. The nurse in charge of her care said, "I'll go get a shot with some medication to calm her."

Even though her eyes were closed, I started talking close to her ear, knowing she could hear until the end. I told her it was fine for her to leave, to join my father, her father and her three siblings. Then I spent time talking about her mother, who died from diphtheria when my mother was seven. I believed most of my mother's emotional difficulties in life came from the loss of her mother and subsequent lack of nurturing.

"Your mother is waiting to hug you, and hold you, Mother," I said. "You will be with your mother forever.

Gradually, I could feel the tension in my mother's shoulder lessen as I talked. She stopped thrashing and moaning, and by the time the nurse returned, I told her the shot wasn't necessary. She could see for herself the change in my mother's demeanor.

The chaplain said a prayer, and as we left to attend my father's funeral, he said, "You sure must come from a loving family."

Strength in Being Misunderstood

"Oh, my!" I thought. I remembered my longing for a mother who was emotionally present that began when I was six or seven. She was not there for me. She could not provide strength and did not provide protection when I needed it most. No, I did not come from a loving family; I am, however, strengthened by a loving God.

I walked to the car, grateful to provide what my mother needed during the last hours of her life. I would never have been able to do this on my own; I needed God's strength and direction. With God, I could offer comfort. With God, I can do all things, but only because God gives me strength.

She died less than four hours later.

Tamika Catchings and Me

Although our situations were different, Tamika Catchings and I found strength beyond our own capabilities to face the experiences and challenges that life brought. I am so grateful God heard the cry of my heart and provided so generously on a day that was filled with complicated and complex emotions.

We can do all things through God, who will strengthen us in a range of situations, from giving a teen the vision to join the WNBA to a woman sitting at her mother's side, offering comfort to someone who was unable to offer comfort to her own child.

This is God's promise. This is God's strength.

For Your Reflection

1. Challenging experiences come from all parts of life - our families, our work, our church, dealing with our own sinful nature. What scripture has provided strength to you?

2. Describe a time when you have needed extraordinary strength.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for becoming real to us when we feel weak or when we struggle. We have assurance you will provide for our needs and you do! For the ways you care for us, we are always grateful. Help us remember that you are ever ready to help, no mater what is happening in our lives. Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Full Circle with the Body and Blood of Christ







Mike and I volunteered to serve communion on World Communion Sunday, October 1. We were assigned to the right balcony on the east side of the sanctuary.

We normally sit on the main level, so being placed "above" gave us a new perspective on worship. After the sermon, we left our pew and went to a small table in the hallway where we found a chalice filled with grape juice and a loaf of bread wrapped with a burgundy towel.

After the communion liturgy, the congregation began to make their way to where we were standing.

"The body of Christ broken for you," I said, handing a small piece of bread to each person.

"The blood of Christ shed for you," Mike said as each person dipped his or her piece of bread in the juice.

The last three people to take communion were people we knew from the last church Mike pastored: John, and his son, Sam, and Sam's wife.

A Thought from the Past

As we were driving home after the service, Mike commented, "The last time I gave communion to John, he was one of he people making life difficult at the church. What a difference twenty-one years makes."

In 1997, after Mike had been at Fishers UMC for a year, a lesbian couple became members. Many people were uncomfortable having these two women and their son as part of the congregation. John and his wife, were among the most vocal in protest. Eventually over forty families left the church, including John and his family. Those days brought great difficulty to Mike as he dealt with the conflict.

Just a few months ago, Mike ran into John at Starbucks. They caught up on what happened in John's life over the years, including the death of his wife.  As they talked, John apologized for his actions and words many years ago, offering Mike a sense that this difficult situation was finally resolved. 

John came full circle with Mike over a chalice of grape juice and a loaf of bread. In the brokenness of the body of Christ, there is love, understanding and acceptance.

The body of Christ, broken for you... for us.

The blood of Christ, shed for you....for all of us.

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone in your life with whom you've had a conflict or disagreement?
2. Have you resolved or made an effort to talk about the difficulty and come to a place of reconciliation?
3 Ask God for clarity as you remember and consider a new way of being with the individual.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the way healing comes in our children. Grant us wisdom and vision to "mend our fences" so we can offer peace and acceptance to all. Amen. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lament for a Fallen Bird



I peeked into the red-berry-laden bush outside Target recently and was startled to see a bird sitting on a nest.

Back in June, a white egg on the sidewalk in front of the bush clued me that a bird might be close by. (Read August 7, 2017, "Gather the Pieces," The White Egg on the Sidewalk.) I poked my head into the bush and saw a bird on a nest settled in the Y-form of a few branches. I did not see babies even though I checked every time I walked by. One day, I noted that the bird was gone. I assumed she left for home.

Now, three months later, I was astonished to find the bird again, sitting on a loosely constructed nest, her belly getting fuller with each visit I made.

I stopped and talked to her one day, asking if she was pregnant, but she just looked at me with large, black eyes outlined by aqua feathers. My visits to Target now included a stop by the bush to check on the bird's progress. I learned she was a mourning dove. One day I noted how the bird's body filled the nest to the edges of the branches.

New Birth

A few days later, I looked in the bush and saw two pairs of bright, black eyes staring at me from their loft above the ground. The two babies looked healthy, with their black and gray feathers fluffed out, making them look almost as big as their mother.

I continued monitoring their progress with each trip to Target. The babies along with their mother were a cozy trio in the Y of the tree.

A Discovery

On my birthday in mid-September, once again I ventured to Target for a few items. Looking forward to seeing the progress of the bird family, I walked by the bush. The nest was empty and one of the babies was on the mulched ground, scooting along dragging its legs behind.

"Oh, my!" I thought. "The mother is gone, and the baby has fallen out of the nest and appears injured."

I started to cry, wondering how a mother could abandon a hurt baby. On my way into the store, I thought of ways I could help the bird - take it to the vet or leave it alone, hoping the mother might return.

My thoughts were on this poor bird as I went from aisle to aisle until I finished and bagged my groceries. Leaving the store, I was still perplexed how to help, but I finally decided the best thing to do was leave it in its habitat and hope the mother would come back.

The next day, I was determined to check on the bird despite a busy day. Getting out of my car I was apprehensive what I might find - Did a racoon eat the bird during the night? Did the bird die overnight from possible internal injuries? Or maybe the bird gained strength and flew away?

I reached the bush and looked all around. The bird was gone. I saw no feathers or other signs of struggle. I looked up to the nest and it was still empty. My best hunch was that someone came along and took the bird home or to a vet.

My Reflection

Most shoppers were probably too busy to notice a bird family They likely focused on what they needed at Target, then continued with their errands and agenda for the day.

I remembered the first time I saw the mother bird on the nest in June, how I was filled with God's presence. I carried that image for many days as a reminder that God was with me and that God was in that mother bird as much as God was in me.

We know God created all things, animals, trees, flowers, and humans. I regarded that first encounter with the bird as communion with another part of God's creation. The subsequent story of the abandoned bird touched my heart in such a way that I wrote a lament (a piece of writing that expresses sorrow) to capture my feelings from the bird's perspective.

                                      A Lament for A Fallen Bird

          I fell to the ground
          From a nest high in a red-berry-laden bush.
          My sibling and I were chubby and strong
          Filling the nest along with our mother
          To overflowing.

          When our mobility increased
          We wiggled and squirmed
          Vying for the limited amount of room
          In the Y of the tree branches.

          Over I went one day,
          Landing on a bed of mulch and dried leaves
          Surrounding the bush.
          My legs broke and dragged behind me
          When I tried to scoot along using my belly and wings.

          My heart broke in the fall, for I knew no one
          Would look down, see my dilemma and offer help.

          The nature of my species is to abandon those not
          Perfect.
          So here I rest, unable to fly
          I look up at the abandoned nest
          Realizing I am abandoned too,
          To live with broken legs and a strong body,
          Scooting along, hoping to make a life
          For myself with limited mobility. 

          The family takes off without me
          And I am left behind
          With God near.

For Your Reflection

1. Have you experienced nature in a way that has touched your soul and led to a new insight or perspective about life?

Prayer: God, thank you for the encounter with this bird family that in some ways reminds me of the story of my own family of origin. We can see parallels of our lives with what happens in nature. For God's presence in the bird and in me that brought about oneness for a moment in time, I am grateful. Amen.
     

                                           

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guideposts Blessings - God Cares for Every Little Hair


Skimming through an outdated copy of Guideposts magazine (April, 2009), several phrases from the articles caused me to pause. I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen and wrote down the words that caught my heart.


                                  Give me strength.
                                      Thou art with me.
                                  Lord, thank you.
                                      Make good come.
                                  Bless my work.
                                        Open my heart.
                                  I need you.
                                        Help me to be kind.

In Search of Blessings

These phrases were exactly what my soul needed. I marveled how God seemed to magnify each one as I read paragraph after paragraph.

Realizing that I don't need to comprehend the main idea of a sentence or paragraph or even a complete article to gain benefit, I continued to read, gaining encouragement along the way. How many more nuggets can impact me? How many more blessings can I find?

A few months later, I picked up a stack of Guideposts at the YMCA offered for free in their lending library. The next set of words I received from reading the articles are listed below.

         I get quiet and listen for God's presence.
                 You know what I need.
         You never know what's going to happen, but you have to trust.
                 God will provide.
         Your sins are forgiven.w
                 I am called to be God's hands and feet wherever God sends me.
         I offered a prayer and sighed in relief.
                 I trust that God will make a way to find good in the most difficult circumstances.

Sometimes God reveals how personally we are known by leading our hearts along unlikely paths when we do simple tasks, like reading a few inspirational articles.

God Knows The Hairs of Your Head

Luke 12:6-7 says, "Aren't five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!" (Good News)

How can God know how many hairs are on the heads of all the people in the universe? Yet an omniscient, all-loving God has indeed counted them all. Surely that reveals how deeply and intimately God cares for each of us.  All of us are noticed. All of us are known. All of us are remembered.

How I Know I'm Known

When I've been directed to certain phrases in a magazine that are exactly what I need, I realize God knows and remembers me. Throughout my days and over the course of my life, so many moments could only be orchestrated by God - revealing how personally God knows and cares for me.

Reading magazines like Guideposts and seeing these phrases that stand out helps me realize others find God in everyday life, just as I do and their words, in turn, help me find God throughout my day.

Watch for God.  Perhaps, you, like me, will see God in symbols or shapes or interactions or in phrases that stand out as you read the Bible or a Christian publication. Pay attention to these details and I hope you'll sense God's intimate attention and care for you.

Questions for Reflection

1. What indications have you noted that revealed the deep, personal knowledge God has of you and your needs?

2. As you read the Bible or other spiritual publications, have you ever listed sentences, phrases or even a word that stands out? Try it!

Prayer: The expanse of people you have created is immense, God, and it's unfathomable for us as humans to imagine knowing each and every one. Yet, we are given the promise that You do indeed know each one of us. Thank you for being a personal God as well as one who is omnipresent and omnipotent. Amen.





Sunday, October 1, 2017

What Makes A Church A Holy Place



"St. Sava is the place that keeps our Serbian culture alive in New York (City). Without it, I'm lost," said one church member after a  fire destroyed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on May 6, 2016.

"The grand, gothic arches have welcomed me every Sunday since 1973, framing baptisms, weddings and funerals, " she continued..

As an act of solidarity, Calvary Episcopal Church, a few blocks away, offered to house the services for St. Sava in their sanctuary until the cathedral is reconstructed.

A group of parishioners looked at the beautiful stained-glass windows inside the Calvary sanctuary. "The sanctuary is unfamiliar," they said, "but God and the prayers are the same. It's not our church, but it's a holy place. Wherever we go God will be with us!"

Differences in Church Buildings

Church buildings are all different. Some resemble auditoriums, while others are more traditional with wooden pews and a center aisle. Some feature altars and crosses, while others cover the wall with art and provide no chairs and instead have their worshipers stand.

Despite these differences, they do have a common feature - they are places where just being inside can draw people to God.

Church Buildings as a Conversation

An article by church architects, David Woodhouse and Andy Tinucci, ("Building Faith" in the February, 2017, issue of "Guideposts") explained how these two men feel about designing a church.

     "We think of our designs as one side of a conversation. The building says something to the worshiper and the worshiper completes the conversation by responding with his or her faith. That's why we try not to put too many pictures or words into our designs. We keep things abstract. We try to give worshipers room to have their own experience of God using their own imaginations."

In their design philosophy, light, building materials, size, sound, wood, stone or carpeted floors all contribute to a person's experience of God when entering - and their conversation with God in worship.

Churches I Have Known

This article caused me to pause and recall the design of the churches Mike pastored through the years. When he was in seminary at Duke Divinity School, he served three, small country churches painted white with tall steeples. There were no frills or decorations, the altar and the pulpit were the main focus. Two of the churches had cemeteries next to them, as was common long ago.

The remaining churches, all in Indiana, had unique features. Two had balconies (First United Methodist Church in New Caste, and First United Methodist Church in Vincennes). Two, Faith and Zoar United Methodist in Mt. Vernon, had a belfry where children took turns each week pulling the thick, frayed twine cord to move the bell, signaling the beginning of worship.

Another church, (Center United Methodist in Indianapolis) had a long, center aisle with fifty pews on either side. Eight stained-glass windows, installed during Mike's tenure, offered an impressive side focus to the sanctuary.

Mike's last church, Fishers United Methodist, had four aisles, with brides having the choice to enter from any one of them. A descending dove depicted in layered brick on a wall behind the altar was a reminder of the Holy Spirit.

Until I read the article in "Guideposts," I never thought about how construction of a church could influence the worship experience or draw people together, giving them space for their own private time with God. The two architects believe that churches "need to be free of the distractions of modern life."

My Church

Because I attend a large church and sit toward the middle of the sanctuary, I have trouble seeing the altar, especially when people stand. The large fount used for baptism is in my direct view, but what sets me in alignment with God is when I seen the five-tiered row of votive candles on a front table. Watching people light a candle, and pause, forms a beautiful picture of coming to God in prayer. Mike and I always light a candle at the end of each service.

The congregation of St. Sava will surely miss worship each week in their holy place. However, the generosity of Calvary Episcopal Church clearly demonstrates the love of Jesus. I pray, in time, the Serbians will find new markers in the sanctuary that will help them sense God's presence in a new setting. After they rebuild their own space after the fire, perhaps more conversation with God than ever before will happen.

Questions for Reflection

1. What makes you experience God's presence in your church or in churches you've visited?

2. Do you find the sanctuary where you worship a distraction-free zone? If not, how does that affect your worship?

3.Where do your eyes focus when you enter the sanctuary? On the lights, organ pipes, woodwork, carpet, flowers, altar cloths, candles, stained glass windows, pictures, the choir, pastor, organ? Do you find these invite you to conversation with God?

Prayer: The generosity, God, of your people in times of adversity demonstrates the way we are always in mission to others. Bless those who are displaced and help them find their familiarity in you despite adverse circumstances. And may we all find a rich, deep, intimate conversation with you in all the places where we gather to worship. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Surrounding Our Home With Love


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."

The Letter

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

"Call The Midwife"



"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

Bracelets, Cards - Signs of Love in Times of Loss and Illness


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:

http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2017/07/when-life-is-overwhelming-here-is-how.html



Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vacation Day

I am taking tomorrow off.

 Next Monday, I will share a story about "Bracelets, Cards - Signs of Love in Times of Loss and Illness."

Thank you for being a faithful reader.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Unfinished Sundresses - A Link to Remembrance


Link - anything serving to connect one part or thing with another; one of the separate pieces of which a chain is composed.


"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.

Unfinished Dresses

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

There's Something in the Water







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.

Reflection Questions

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

Disturbance




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.)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The White Egg on the Sidewalk








Walking along the shrub-lined entrance to my favorite Target store, I spotted a cracked white egg on the sidewalk - a bird's egg. I looked into the bush to my right to discover, deep inside the branches, hidden from casual passersby, the tail of a dove sitting on a nest.

I watched this beautiful scene for a few minutes, but saw no activity. The bird sat motionless.

I finally left and headed into the store with lots of questions.

"Was there really a dove in this bush outside a busy Target?"

"How could the bird find enough sticks to make a nest in an area surrounded by concrete and blacktop?"

"Were eggs in the nest?"

"If so, how could birds hatch in such a noisy environment?"

Half an hour later, finished with my shopping, I walked by the egg again. I stopped to peek in the bush and the dove was looking at me. "Got little ones in there?" I asked. She just stared.

I smiled and stepped back. On my way home I carried this precious image of serenity and peace. I marveled how the dove discovered a secluded spot in a bush with noise and confusion coming from children and adults walking on the sidewalk; with construction of a new pizza place less than 200 feet away that brought the rumble of bulldozers and cranes;  cars zooming by, with horns beeping occasionally; airplanes flying overhead - in other words, she was raising a family surrounded by noise everywhere.

The dove reminded me that it is possible to find a still, quiet place within my heart where God resides, despite the noise that I hear every day. If a dove can find such solace in a bush close to a busy store, I can too!

Reflection Question:

1. In your busy life, where do you find peace and quiet?

Prayer: God, thank you for reminders from animals that show us the way to life with you. Amen.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

When Life Is Overwhelming - Here Is How God Provides




Coasting through the days of summer, I hit a juncture where life for many people I knew and cared about was falling apart.

I was struggling to find ways to encourage and support my soul as I prayed for -

- ten people dealing with cancer;

- close friends facing strained family relationships;

- two sudden deaths, one a beloved mother, and the other a retired clergy spouse.

In addition to supporting others in their struggles, I dealt with demons from my past that surface sometimes daily as I work to stay present. Compassion and sadness I was feeling for everyone and everything plowed through the bottom of my heart, hardly able to contain all that I felt.

And yet, I find respite in small things like -

- hearing the birds chirp outside each day;

- watching the two little boys next door grow and change;

- swimming five times a week;

- lingering on phone calls from my daughter in Oregon.

I felt hope the day I picked blueberries with my daughter who lives close by, and again with a friend and her daughter. All these moments offer a blessed pause from the strain and sorrow that life brings.

There are the hard and horrible things and there are the sweet and precious things. Life brings both.

During the hard and difficult times, God in God's mercy heard the cry of my heart and gave me directives to carry me along:

     1. Continue to begin my day with God and prayer. Wendy Wright in her book The Time Between - Cycles and Rhythms of Ordinary Time, says in the preface, "Saint Paul enjoined us to 'pray always.' By this I don't believe Paul meant we are always to be 'saying our prayers,' but rather that our entire life must become infused with a spirit of prayerful awareness of God's presence, gifts, challenges and call to us. This attentive awareness is fostered in many ways: we read scripture, pray, worship, wait in silence, engage in works of justice and mercy, read devotional books and share our faith with others."

     2. "Listen with the ear of your heart," says St. Benedict (480-547 A.D.), a Catholic saint in his book offering directives for daily life - The Rule of St. Benedict.  Such listening brings forth compassion and care to another. "Listening with the ear of your heart," means that you are listening with intention, not thinking about what you are going to say next. When we offer complete attention, we are giving the speaker a part of our self - a piece of our heart. We find words to say or the answers we need as we are present to the other. Listening to others sharpens our ability to listen when God speaks.

     3. Ask God to surround your heart with compassion - compassion for yourself and for communication with others. With each encounter look to the heart of what the person is saying, reflect their words and walk beside them with prayer and acts of kindness, offering tangible reminders of Jesus' words, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).

     4.Live with gratitude. Keep a list each day of things for which you are grateful. Gratitude offers a different perspective than reality - that all is not overwhelming and difficult. Gratitude encourages an awareness of God's presence, provision and faithfulness, and helps me acknowledge goodness even when life is challenging.

God's mercy and provision came forth with directives to strengthen my path and deepen my walk during these days when others are carrying heavy burdens and I am walking beside. And I get the small gifts of time with those I love, when I move through the blueberry bushes, plucking the fruit with family and friends. For this and for God's merciful insight about how to live, gratitude fills my soul.

For Your Reflection:

     1. How does God come to you when friends are struggling and you are trying to help?
     2. Remember God's appearances as encouragement for how God really does know your needs as you are working to be the hands and feet of Christ wherever you go.

Prayer: In your generosity, God, I can find what I need to be present to others in suffering while I face my own work. Your compassion living in me enables me to care for those who are in need as well as cover my heart. For everything you give, I am grateful. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God's Communication - Fifteen Years Later



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; jreed46038@hotmail.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

Stacked Triangles














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

Anonymous Notes to People I Encounter - Part 3








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

Anonymous Notes to People I Encounter - Part 2









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

Anonymous Notes to People i Encounter








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

"Wherever we are, we're together."






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."

Reflection Questions

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.