Sunday, July 23, 2017
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; firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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
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
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
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
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."
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.
Monday, June 12, 2017
Yesterday, my friend Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was recently diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.
We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan’s arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms.
We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn’t be ruined.
Sue brought some of her books to share. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late where not allowed on the cancer floor.
As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.
She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. “This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?”
We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.
“Yes,” I said. “I know someone.” One of my daughter’s friends had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.
Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.
However, we know that our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home in Evansville was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.
How do we approach people who are confronting difficult, life-threatening circumstances?
- Show Up – It’s never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional difficulties.
- Bring something for the person to do. Hospital days can be long. If this person left in a hurry, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
- Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. He or she will let you know what to talk about.
- If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You’ll offer comfort.
Prayer: God, thank you for strength needed to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for I know you are the great provider. Amen.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
“My burdens are gone!”
Twenty minutes earlier, I started my walk with thoughts swirling in and through my mind. Keeping a steady pace, I passed by homes, flowers, and yards that were like friends developed over the twenty years I’d walked the neighborhood.
Staying present to my surroundings as well as to what God might offer was impossible, as the burdens I carried seemed to settle in for good. Halfway through my route, I suddenly realized my head was empty – free! No more words and sentences occupied my mind.
“What a relief! I feel lighter and peaceful.” My brisk steps reflected my feelings.
Movement, Repetition, FreedomSomewhere in the middle of my path, God came in and relieved me of my worries. My mind was cleared and I had room for new thoughts or simply rest.
I noticed the same pattern when I swam the next day. During the first ten to twelve laps, concerns and thoughts sloshed around in my mind. However, as the laps increased, I again found myself in a place of rest. God caused the thoughts to silence. I was able to swim with more energy after my mind cleared.
I Will Give You RestOne of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 11:28, describes God’s care when we are occupied by many thoughts and concerns. Jesus is speaking, and He says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest.”
God comes to lift my cares and remind me that God knows me and is aware of what’s in my heart. God enters my mind unexpectedly and lifts my concerns, bringing freedom, peace, clarity—and a quicker step to my walk, or greater speed with each stroke.
Reflection Question – How do you feel God removing your worries?
Prayer: God, in your generous love and compassion you come to us, lift our cares, cleanse our minds, and open more room for us to hear your voice. Thank you for the way you help us navigate the perils of life by carrying our loads and refreshing our hearts. Amen.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
I am not a comfortable airplane traveler. At the least amount of turbulence, I think the plane is going down. The last week in April, Mike and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit our daughter, Anna. We were all day reaching our destination that included a lengthy layover in Denver.
On the second leg of our travels, from Denver to Portland, the pilot’s voice came on halfway through the flight and asked the passengers to keep seatbelts fastened because turbulence would make the remaining time in the air bumpy.
I clicked my seatbelt together. “Oh, my,” I thought, “the airplane is going down for sure!”
As predicted, we encountered the air pockets that create turbulence and a bumpy ride began. Usually when we travel I bring a piece of quilting. I was working on a table runner to use in the kitchen. With each jolt of the plane, I noted my stitches went deeper through the cloth and were closer together.
Quilting keeps me calm, brings me comfort, and is a way to pray. As I quilted across the land, I formed a prayer: “Jesus calm the air.” I repeated these words like a mantra to remind myself at 30,000 feet I was not alone.
I was taken back to the sermon I heard a few weeks ago from Matthew 8:23-27 about the time Jesus and the disciples were in a boat crossing a lake. While they were sailing, Jesus fell asleep. A storm hit the lake causing the boat to toss and turn. The disciples thought they were about to die. They awakened Jesus, who chastised them – “What little faith you have!” Jesus “ordered the wind and the waves to stop” and calmness returned.
I knew my prayer wouldn’t calm the air…or could it? As I repeated the words, I felt my heart reach a place of peace and, interestingly, the turbulence ended.
While I was waiting in line to exit the plane, I saw the pilot and one of the flight attendants talking. When I got closer, I heard the pilot say, “Well, I guess I misread the turbulence. It just didn’t happen as I thought.”
Walking through the tunnel that leads from the plane to the terminal, I reflected – there were two pilots for this flight: Jesus, and the pilot who flew the plane.
For Your Reflection:
- When “storms” come in your life and you feel tossed and turned, how do you respond?
- What short prayer or mantra can you repeat as you experience “turbulence” in life?
Sunday, May 14, 2017
One day, Powell’s, a large independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, posted this on its Instagram account:
“Life is like using the whole box of crayons.” Ru Paul
Weaving Multiple Colors of YarnThe Indianapolis Art Center in Broad Ripple offers a series of two-hour classes they make open to the public. Recently I was part of a weaving class. Driving to the center, I imagined choosing yellow, teal, orange and soft pink to make the small weaving advertised as the class project. When I arrived and saw the array of colors of yarn spread over four tables, including my current favorites, I was elated. I could hardly wait for the teacher to instruct us and let us choose our yarn.
The instructor began by saying we were not weaving a wall hanging like the one described in the course catalogue. Instead, our focus for the afternoon was a “small interpretive piece.”
“Choose a picture,” she said, gesturing to an assortment of magazines strewn in the center of the long table around which we gathered. “This will form the basis for your interpretive weaving.”
After we found a picture, we chose yarn to match colors in the picture, and then wrapped the yarn around a 5 x 7 piece of heavy cardboard – not what I was expecting. In my mind, wrapping yarn around cardboard had no connection to weaving.
Turning the pages of several magazines, I was determined to find a picture with my favorite bright pastels. However, along the way, I was distracted by a picture of a flock of sheep and decided to use that picture instead. At the yarn table, I selected several shades of white and cream, as well as tan, pink, and black, all of which I saw in the magazine picture. With these colors I was surely exploring hues in the box of crayons previously ignored.
I slowly wrapped the cream yarn around the cardboard, anchoring each row with a knot on the back. Threading a needle with the pink textured yarn, I began weaving the needle in and out. I came to a weaving class, and I was determined to weave my creation.
When I took a break from weaving, I wrapped another cardboard square with yellow, teal, green, and blue. Somehow these colors didn’t feel right to my soul. I felt like I was forcing the colors when my heart was connected to the creams, pink, tan, and black to match the sheep.
A Surprise Using New ColorsOn the drive home, I reflected on my experience and realized I came to the class focused on certain colors much like a child might tend to draw with only his or her favorite selection of five or six crayons.
Fortunately, I yielded to the leading of my heart and opened myself to a group of colors that were not my usual preference, but fit the photo perfectly.
Opening to new experiences in color reminds me to break out of other ruts in my life where I follow the same pathways or routines over and over. I realized how open I was to new ideas and perceptions when I ventured into colors that are unfamiliar. It’s the same way in life—if I venture into new locations or interact with new people or entertain new thoughts, I’ll be open to change. Even in my thought processes, changing from loss to gain and good will energize, strengthen, and empower me – just like I experienced when exploring new colors.
For your Reflection:
- Purchase a small box of crayons. Get a sheet of paper and empty the box.
- To what colors are you attracted? What are your favorite colors? Draw a few shapes or designs using those colors.
- Eventually use all of the colors in the box. What feelings arise or insights come as you explore the crayons you tend to use less infrequently or not at all?
- What parallels in your life can you make by using all of the colors in the box?
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Chairs in the
Just like the people
Who will sit in them.
Arranged in a circle
For the meeting
Later in the day.
Chairs hold the people
Who sit in them
As well as their history,
Thousands of stories
Through a lifetime of use.
Monday, May 1, 2017
When I look out the window
At the beginning of each day,
I wonder what will happen as
The hours go by.
Some things are planned, but
catches me off guard –
Keep me centered in you when
I fall in thought.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
One day on the way to an art class, I stopped in a local grocery store to purchase an orange and an apple for a mid-afternoon snack.
I stood in the checkout lane behind an off-duty Marion County sheriff, whose food filled the belt. Noticing my two small purchases at the end of his order, he said in a booming voice, “I’ll pay for her fruit. I’m a seed sower. I like to be a seed sower.”
I was flustered at first. “You don’t have to do that.”
He smiled. “I like to be a seed sower.”
I thanked him for his generosity. “I will pass on your kindness in the future.”
Following him out of the store, I saw him load his groceries in the sheriff’s car right next to me – the only two cars in the parking lot. I thanked him again, and we offered each other blessings for our days.
His kindness reminded me of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9:11 – “We have sown spiritual seeds among you.” The sheriff was living out these words written by Paul, flowing from the love of God in his heart.
Paul wasn’t talking about sowing seeds that result in plants, but “spiritual seeds” that when “planted” through acts of love encourage the recipient to ponder the kindness and perhaps “sow it forward” to someone else. Love sows love, you might say.
For Your ReflectionHow can you declare and demonstrate “I’m a seed sower,” like the sheriff did to me?
Prayer: God, living and moving among your kingdom is what we do in our jobs, at home, in stores, at parks, and in all of the places we go. Remind us to be “seed sowers” in whatever form that may take. We know you bless our efforts to spread your message of love everywhere. Amen.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
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
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
When I saw her
Long, slender fingers
Press and mold the
I returned to those
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
The art started in the nursery,
In the classroom,
Nearly four decades later.
(A poem written for my daughter, Sarah, after a recent visit.)
Sunday, April 2, 2017
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
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
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
Sunday, March 12, 2017
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 SpaceRecently, 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 SpaceEvery 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 SpaceSharing 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
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.
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.