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; email@example.com. I am interested in how God comes to you, especially in unexpected ways.
Prayer: Sometimes it's hard to believe, God, with all of the people you create that you know everything happening in our lives. Thank you for your goodness and care that offers reassurance of your love and companionship. Amen.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
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.