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