Sunday, November 11, 2018

Memory Quilts for Sean and Jillian

I first met my dear friend, Selena, on a windy, chilly, snowy day, a week before Christmas in 2010. She and her husband, Jeff, along with their two-year-old son, Alex, and members of their extended families, were standing on snow-covered icy ground near the front of a small rural cemetery.

When I got out of my car, my eyes went quickly to the tiny, grey casket perched on a wooden bier in front of a large hole dug in the earth. I'd never attended an infant funeral.

Mike stood next to Selena and Jeff, although I easily could have picked them out in  a crowd, with grief molding their faces and eyes that were blank, allowing tears, not vision, to settle in and flow.

I stood to the side to let the family have full view and hear the prayers and words Mike would say to commit two, sweet little souls to God and their bodies to the earth. The twins, born at 23 weeks, survived a few days. Sean, the little boy, lived one day, his sister, Jillian, two.

The Story

Jeff and Selena birthed and lost the babies while they lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month later they moved to Indiana, wanting Sean and Jillian to be buried close by in their new town.

They knew no one in Indiana. However, God set to work an amazing series of events to bring them to a church in Fishers, that would envelop them with love and compassion. Their pastor in Raleigh knew Mike from when they attended the Duke Divinity School. He contacted Mike, describing Sean and Jillian's deaths. Mike set in motion through a series of emails and phone calls to arrange a few nights of meals, to assist with the early days of their arrival and following the funeral service.

Even the caretaker of the small cemetery was a member of the church. She quickly arranged a plot for the children to be buried.

Coping with Loss

Facing such deep grief and knowing few people, Selena turned to her long-time skill in quilting to companion her through those days and months of processing great loss.

She and Jeff were given all of the quilts that touched Sean and Jillian while they were in the hospital. Early in February, 2011, Selena decided to make two memory quilts, one for Sean and one for Jillian, to send to the hospital in Raleigh where they were born.

With her then three-year-old son, Alex, by her side, they found quilt shops in the Indianapolis area. Eventually she purchased the perfect fabric to honor her dear children. Planning the quilts and purchasing fabric, gave Selena structure and focus for her days.

Into the spring and summer, she sewed and quilted, finally finishing them in mid-fall, ready to mail to Raleigh in time for the first anniversary of their deaths, November 18. Before she packed the quilts, she asked the two pastors of the church, her Bible study group, and a few friends to pray over her handwork. The quilts were heavy with her grief, but also heavy with prayer from those who cared and loved her.

Selena's Words

I asked Selena to describe her experience making the memory quilts.

"The hum of my sewing machine has always brought me a sense of peace. As a young girl, I'd play with my dolls at my mother's feet under the table while she sewed, hearing the monotonous hum of the needle piercing the fabric.

I grew up and discovered my love for sewing in particular, making beautiful quilts. Eight years ago, my husband and I lost our beloved son and daughter. At a time when I didn't want to get out of bed in the mornings, I knew I needed to honor them by living.

The hum of the machine once again brought me peace. At the hospital in Raleigh, we were given everything our children touched, including quilts, blankets and hats. I found comfort in these items because I was touching what they had last touched.

I decided to start making memory quilts in their honor to give the feeling of touch and warmth to other families. While I piece together bright, happy fabrics (because I know the personalities of my children are bright and happy in Heaven), I pray for each of them. I also pray for the baby girl who will receive my daughter's memory quilt and the baby boy who will receive my son's memory quilt, praying deep into the threads, breathing prayers into the batting, lovingly holding the fabrics as I lovingly held my own son and daughter.

I have made two quilts each year since their passing. I send them to a nurse who works in the NICU where Sean and Jillian received care. She, along with the staff, decide which family will receive the quilts each year. I know my children are resting in the arms of the Lord, proud of what their mother is doing, listening to the peaceful hum of the sewing machine."

For Your Reflection

1. How have you worked through times of deep grief and loss?
2. What ways help you touch those places of grief that seem endless, without words or form?
3. Can art (I consider quilting an art form.) become an avenue of expression, a picture of what wells from your heart?

Prayer: God, many times we plow through unbearable grief, similar to what Selena and Jeff experienced. Our loss may have a different nature, but deep grief is often without form. Thank you for Selena's gift of sewing that allows her to companion others who are going through difficult loss. May you bless each with love and prayers that are within every stitch and inch of fabric. Guide those who are in grief; lead them to a way through using a hobby or special interest so that their grief can come to a place of peace, glorifying you with gratitude as Selena has modeled. Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Little Prayer to Start the Day


Going through a season of loss and change over the summer, I decided to read a book by one of my favorite authors, Kathleen Norris, A  Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life. Kathleen covers a variety of topics reviewing her past and dealing with acedia or apathy.

She also takes the reader through her husband's struggle with cancer. When David died, she felt fragile and disconnected from God.

"But I did find a prayer for myself that proved suitable for mourning and my continuing struggle with acedia," she noted.

          "This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord,
for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently,  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

The prayer she found touched my soul. Although I wasn't fragile, I had experienced a time of feeling distance from God. I liked the simplicity of the words as a way to prepare for a new day. I found how helpful it can be to use prayers from others.

I voiced the prayer to begin my day for several weeks. It brought peace and comfort during a time when God felt far away. The simple tasks described, standing, sitting still, lie low, do nothing, are ones we do everyday without thought. The prayer, however, invites us to regard these actions as holy and purposeful.

The beginning words acknowledge the uncertainty that each day can bring, at the same time offering grounding in God for whatever might happen. This assurance of God's constant presence reminds us we are not alone, no matter what happens.

The prayer ends with a desire to add meaning and depth to the words, to take them to heart, welcoming the Spirit of Jesus to energize our outward focus with those we encounter.

I find myself going to the words of this prayer during the day as a reminder that whatever simple tasks is before me God is with me and what I am doing is holy.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, our simple actions are deep with meaning and holy because you are with us. Help us always live and respond with the heart of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Kingdom of God Is Like .......Meijer, Color, Comfort

When I reached the entrance to Meijer, dodging raindrops and splashing my canvas shoes into puddles, I experienced relief. Shaking the rain off my umbrella in the side entrance, I found one of the half-size carts to push. Folding my umbrella into the basket, I collected my frazzled brain to recall what I needed.

"I like your umbrella," a voice said behind me. "The color is comforting."

I turned around and saw an elderly woman, the Meijer greeter, wearing a bright, red vest. She looked tired and steadied herself again the pole corralling all of the shopping carts.

"Oh, thank you," I replied astonished my cheap, teal-colored umbrella brought comfort to a weary soul.

Color and Prayer

Color has a way of invoking responses as this kind lady demonstrated. Sometimes when I cannot find words to express what I am feeling I turn to the small box of Crayola paints resting on my windowsill. I find a color  or colors that connect with what is in my heart and paint strips on a piece of white paper.

Pastor Elizabeth Myer Boulton shared her thoughts on color with the following essay: "Ode to Yellow."

          "Sometimes I find it hard to pray. I know that may sound odd coming from a pastor, but it's true. If Jesus were standing beside me, one of the first questions I would ask is, 'Lord, teach us how to pray.' (Luke 11"1-4)

          In my imagination, Jesus answers that request with something like this: 'One way to go about praying, my dear, is to focus on a particular color to carry with you for the day or the week. Pray through that color. Pick one and pray through it.'

          So, my color today is yellow. I will learn to pray through the color yellow. I will give thanks to God for the bright yellow rays of the sun. I will say a special prayer for the man driving the yellow taxi cab going down the street. I will pray for the woman on the park bench wearing a yellow hat.

          Today, every time I see the color yellow, I will lift  up a prayer of healing, of comfort, of protection of thanksgiving for a God who teaches us how to pray."                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  Perhaps the Meijer greeter was praying through teal or maybe in the moment I walked into the store, she was sad or lonely or dealing with a circumstance where her heart was hurting.

As I walked up and down the aisles choosing groceries, I carried her words with me, reflecting how walking into Meijer, on a rainy day, with my five dollar umbrella, brought her comfort. The kingdom of God is like this ...... Meijer, color, comfort.

For Reflection

1. Choose a day when you want to increase your awareness of God's presence by noting a color.
2. Start in the morning praying, "Today, God, I want to be aware of you as I observe _________ (name the color).
3. When I see (color) I can pray for someone, pray for myself, offer gratitude, ask to feel God's love or comfort or strength or healing or ask the Holy Spirit to enter my heart or whatever else comes. God will provide for your experience.
4. At the end of the day, spend a few minutes reflecting on your time with God and the color you chose, maybe writing a few words or sentences.

Prayer: God, we never know how we can be an unsuspecting vessel of your love as we run errands, go through stores, and libraries and the post office. Use us as you will to bring your message of love wherever we go. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bold in Faith

Finishing the last lengths of my swim to complete a half mile, I did a few stretches while still in the water. I looked on the deck in front of me and saw a Muslim woman speaking out loud while reading from an iPad. I recognized Norah, having spoken to her before at the local YMCA. I jumped out of the water, grabbed my towel and gym bag and walked over to the bench where she sat.

A burqa outlined her face and hands. "Are you praying?" I asked. She looked up recognizing me and extended her hand, smiling.

"I've seen you before reading the Koran out loud. I admire the way you are public with your faith. I'm a Christian, but I don't carry my Bible wherever I go."

"I am reading the Koran," she replied. "We pray five times a day wherever we are. In such a busy life, we look to our great creator to remember our faith."

I said good-bye and walked to the locker room to shower. I never see anyone reading the Bible while their child or children have swim lessons or play in the water. Norah's bold demonstration of faith was inspiring, I thought.

Praying the Hours

Reflecting on my encounter with Norah later in the day, I focused on her description of the importance of pausing and praying five set times during each day. This  practice reminded me of the monastic ritual of praying the hours, something I did for many years, especially during the time I worked at St. Vincent Hospital.

One day a week (I rotated the days: Monday, one week, Tuesday, the next etc.) from the time I awakened until I went to bed, I paused at the beginning of each hour to pray. At first,early in the day, I looked at the clock often during the hour. However, as the day progressed, I found that 'my soul reminded me of the hour' before I realized the time. My 'day of the hours' as I called it, became a mini-retreat for the week. Each day frequently ended with a new insight about my walk with God and always with a deeper awareness of God's presence.

Remembering God at the beginning of every hour was a way to stay centered on God as well as acknowledge that God was with me.

For Reflection

Here's an experiment. Choose a day to practice 'a day of the hours.' Select five times throughout your day to pause and pray. You may want to use these focused moments with God to pray for a decision you are facing or for an individual about whom you care. Or you can use this time to direct your thoughts to God's presence surrounding you. Reminder alarms on watches and cell phones can assist if you desire. As you feel more comfortable, add more hours and then a whole day.

Consider these questions.

1. How does God come to you?
2. Do you sense God's presence more deeply?
3. What can you learn from the practice of praying the hours?

Prayer: God, you are the creator of all persons. We can share similar practices of other faith traditions. Perhaps the terminology or sequence is different, but honoring common features can help build bridges and unify all. Amen.






Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Wait I have to go to Bible study ........"

Scripture: Matthew 9:18-22 -  "While Jesus was saying this, a Jewish official came to him, knelt down before him, and said, 'My  daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her and she will live.' So Jesus got up and followed him, and his disciples went along with him.
   A woman who had suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, 'If only I touch his cloak, I will get well.' Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, 'Courage my daughter. Your faith has made you well.' At that very moment the woman became well."

The story begins when a Jewish official, whose daughter had just died, interrupted Jesus with an urgent plea. "Come place your hands on her and she will live." Jesus and the other disciples followed him.

Along the way, a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years saw Jesus. She said, "If I only touch his cloak I will get well." The woman didn't need to speak to Jesus or even look at him. She needed no interaction - just to touch his cloak. Jesus took a moment to respond to her saying, "Courage, my daughter. Your faith has made you well." The woman was healed at that very moment.

Jesus' Pause

Jesus shows us a willingness to set aside what he is doing and be present to people who come to him. He could have said to the Jewish official, "I'm not done teaching. I will be with you in a few minutes." He could have ignored the woman's needs so he could hurry and reach the official's house. Over and over we read how Jesus pauses, listens and responds to those around him.

Our Lives and Jesus' Life

I believe Jesus' life was as busy as ours can be, but in different ways. Jesus didn't let the demands people were making on his time get in the way of being present in the moment, even to those who interrupted.

Several years ago, I attended a Wednesday morning Bible study at the YMCA. The class began at 9:00. My gym bag and purse were slung over my shoulder, ready to leave when the phone rang. I knew if I answered the call I would be late. I picked up the phone and listened to a friend who needed someone to listen. I couldn't say to her, "I'm sorry I can't talk now, I need to go to Bible study so I can learn how Jesus loved and cared for others." So we spoke for ten minutes, then twenty minutes. Finally forty-five minutes later we finished and agreed to meet the next day to continue the discussion.

I drove to the YMCA anyway, arriving for the last five minutes of the study. I don't know what I missed during class that day, but I know I'm glad I didn't miss a a chance to follow Jesus' example to pause, set aside what I was doing and be present to my friend that day.

Reflection Questions

1. Is it easy or hard to set aside our daily agendas when someone needs our help?

2. Have you been late to an activity because you paused to listen to a friend or family member? How does allowing time for others unexpectedly make you feel?

3. When have you ignored someone to continue with your plans? Do you regret taking time to be present?

Prayer: Loving and caring God, help me follow the example of Jesus as I encounter people - both those who I plan to see and those who randomly cross my path. Guide me to set aside my agenda and respond to others. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jesus Wrote

Jesus preached, blessed, ate, celebrated, walked, talked and ........ wrote!

John chapter 8:1-11, described an encounter Jesus had with teachers of the law and Pharisees who asked about a woman caught in adultery. The punishment according to Jewish law was stoning. Before he responded, Jesus took a minute to write in the sand. Verse 6: "But he (Jesus) bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger."

Jesus knows the importance of the answer, so he takes a moment to write.

"As they stood there asking him questions, he straightens up and says to them, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her." (verse 7)

After he answers the teachers and Pharisees, he bends over again to write on the ground.

We don't know what Jesus wrote, but he did give the example to pause and reflect before answering.

The End of Reflection

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, The New York Times featured an article by Teddy Wayne called "The End of Reflection." The author recognized a change in his life. In the past when he had extra time, he would "observe or think about my surroundings or take a walk."

Now he notes, "I pick up my phone to check a notification, browse and read the internet, text, use an app or listen to audio (or on rare occasions, engage in an old-fashioned 'telephone call'). The last remaining place I'm guaranteed to be alone with my thoughts is in the shower."

Wayne quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, "As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient. When moments without stimulation arise, we start to feel panicked and don't know what to do with them, because we've trained ourselves to expect this stimulation."

Carr sees the use of the internet and other electronics  as "the loss of the contemplative mind."

We need a contemplative mind to stay in touch with God. If we go with the trends Wayne and Carr are  noting in their article and book, we are doomed to shallow thinking and impatient attitudes.

AARP

The January, 2016, issue of American Association of Retired Persons included a short article, "The Write Way to Slow Down." The article explains, 'One thing proved to help you slow down is writing your thoughts and feelings in longhand. On paper. It's not just writing; it's taking time to think and process recent life events. The ritual is an effective way for you to analyze situations creatively and to stay centered during difficult times.

There it is again. Writing. The way to slow down.

Jesus modeled it well for us and John captured the moment of writing in the sand.

Returning to Jesus

Jesus knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law were waiting for an answer. Jesus realized the importance of the question required careful thought so he paused, twice, to write on the ground. They were expecting consent to the Jewish law, so Jesus' answer stunned them when he offered compassion and forgiveness.

Of course, no one knows what Jesus wrote before or after he responded or if he wrote something to the woman, to those asking the question, or to God the father. Perhaps he wrote a prayer asking for wisdom prior to his answer and a prayer of gratitude afterwards. No one knows.

Jesus offers a model to use not only when we are involved in thought-provoking or difficult conversations or responding to a question with a friend, at work, at church or other places.

1. Take a moment to pause before replying. Collecting thoughts and organizing how to phrase an answer can result in an effective and meaningful response.

2. Offer a quick prayer for guidance.

3. Write down a few thoughts - after all, the article reminds us that writing slows us down.

4. Say a short prayer of gratitude for God's help after replying.

Slowing down in today's fast-paced world is a challenge, but necessary. Companionship with God demands times of silence, contemplation and reflection to grow deeper in faith and hear God's voice.

For Your Reflection

1. What do you think Jesus wrote in the sand?
2. How can you incorporate Jesus' model of writing before replying to everyday life?
3. What is the value of writing for you?

Prayer: God, advances in communication seem to discourage the contemplative mind. How can we weigh seriously and listen to your voice as we talk with others and consider matters of importance? Help us to use Jesus' model of pausing and writing in our interaction and during our time with you. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Peter, Paul and Mary - To Be Continued

On November 5, 2014, I listened to NPR"s Diane Rehm interview Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the popular sixties trio, Peter, Paul and Mary. The occasion for the interview was to introduce the release of their book Fifty Years in Music.

Peter, Paul and Mary were my favorite vocalists when I was a teenager. The lyrics were simple, the tunes catchy, and soon I was singing their songs when I walked to school. Their unique folk style opened the way for new forms of music prior to the Beatles.

Diane asked a lot of questions. I learned Paul's first name is Noel, is middle name, Paul. Mary died in 2009, but Peter and Paul continued to perform. Paul remarked that those who hear them sense Mary's spirit as they present concerts all over the country.

Peter and Paul spent time remembering Mary and their relationship through the years. Paul explained that when Mary visited a friend she never said good-bye, but "to be continued."

To be continued means something will go on. Mary and her friends will continue in friendship  even though they aren't in close proximity.

Jesus and His Friends

Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and shared with them a meal of bread and wine we now call the Last Supper. Jesus showed the disciples a piece of bread and said, "This is my body." Then Jesus gave the disciples a drink of wine from a cup he help. "This is my blood."

Jesus wanted the disciples to have tangible items and a ritual to remember him and his ministry that would continue throughout time. The Last Supper or Holy Communion as we now call the meal, is a way for Jesus to say, "I am not saying good-bye. My life will continue in resurrection and we will meet again."

To Be Continued

Mary realized that even though she may not see a friend for awhile, she was not saying good-bye at the last encounter, but 'to be continued' until they were together again. "To be continued" carries an excitement and expectation of new conversations and encounters where "good-bye" has an element of finality.

Jesus wants us who  believe in him and who partake of communion to remember he, too, did not say good-by, but "My life continues in your life until we meet again. Bread and wine, symbols of my body and blood will empower you as you continue my ministry wherever you go and whomever you meet. We did not say "good-bye" to Jesus at the cross, but "to be continued" when we receive communion and serve in the kingdom."

Reflection Questions

1. Are there friends to whom you say "good-bye" when you leave?

2. Are there friends to whom you could say, "to be continued" as you depart?

3. How can you continue Jesus' ministry?

Prayer: God, the cross did not mean "good-bye" for your son, despite what seemed obvious as Jesus was placed in the tomb. Resurrection means "to be continued" as we receive the love of Jesus in our hearts and serve in the kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Shift In Perspective

One day last summer, when I had multiple appointments and several places to go. I started my day swimming at the YMCA. I went early hoping to get in and out quickly, but every time I tried to slip out the door, I kept seeing people I knew and wanted to greet each one.

Finally reaching the exit, I pushed open the heavy door and crossed the parking lot. As I neared my car and reached for the keys, I heard my name.

Noticing someone from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee at the grocery store down the street from where I live. Elizabeth worked in the floral department. When I made a purchase, she always took time to wrap the flowers carefully, adding a ribbon to bind the bouquet.

Elizabeth liked to talk, often complaining about working conditions at the store. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop, I was in a hurry and didn't want to take time to visit. Since the floral department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid seeing her. In all honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going, just delayed.

Here she was at the Y calling my name. We talked for a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour. Meanwhile I was getting restless, worrying about being late for my 9:30 art class.

Finally she said, "I think it was a God thing I saw you today."

Oh, my! I did not think seeing her was a God thing for me because I w anted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

I made it to my art class and to other commitments, but I kept thinking of my conversation with Elizabeth. I was disturbed because she thought seeing me was of God and I thought seeing her was a delay.

I asked God to forgive my impatience and help me manage my time more wisely when I had a full agenda.

I was thankful Elizabeth regarded seeing me as part of God's design for her day. She didn't explain why, but I noticed a few weeks later, she had joined the Y and was participating in one of the popular water aerobics classes.

Perhaps she was hesitant to enter an unfamiliar building or self-conscious because exercise had not been part of her life. Seeing a familiar face and receiving my encouragement must have been exactly what she needed to enroll.

We never know when we leave the house who we will encounter or how we will be perceived by those we meet.

Prayer: God, help us receive all we meet in your name and may our words and actions reflect your love. Amen.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hasten: What Elie Wiesel Taught About Prayer

Well-known  Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 2, 2016. He was a prolific  writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day. Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May, 1944 to January, 1945) and Buchenwald (January, 1945 to April, 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation in other forms, made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother, and younger sister, died in May, 1944, and his father in January, 1945.

Practicing His Faith

Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to the study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.

Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.

Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented:

    "I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)

I was taken by his words, "... seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later."  Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.

Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me  his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hope that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.

Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer

Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do we have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe that love will come?

I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words, "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful will bring comfort until peace comes.

Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.

Jesus, the Messiah has come. We do not have the urgent desire for his coming as Elie Wiesel did. Do we take Jesus for granted? Do we live the fullness of life in Christ as Wiesel anticipated would happen if the Messiah came?

What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we encounter?

Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong - I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it thorough.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your word. Let us believe, too, that as we pray with faith, trust and belief, we can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day

Friends - I am enjoying the holiday today. "Gather the Pieces" will return next week. I pray you feel God's presence each day. Jacquie

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week, I received a phone call from a friend, Susan, who used to live in Vincennes,  where we lived before moving to Fishers.

We taught together at Vincennes University, shared an office for a semester, and developed a friendship that included studying God's word and praying for each other.

When Mike was appointed to serve a church in Fishers, we corresponded frequently and continued to pray for each other and our families. Over the years, the number of letters declined as she moved and purchased a winter home out of state. We kept in touch on birthdays and at Christmas.

Her call came unexpectedly, but with joy. We talked and caught up on our families and places in life. Her main purpose for contacting me was to ask for prayer when she had surgery the following week. She chose two scriptures to guide her through the days of hospitalization and recovery.

Praying with Scripture

"I'll pray for you using the scripture. We will be united before God," I said.

She liked my idea and gave me these two passages:

Psalm 34:4 - "I prayed to the Lord and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears."

Nahum 1:7 - "The Lord is good; he protects his people in times of trouble."

When I brought Susan's name to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name.

Psalm 34:4 - "Susan prayed to the Lord and he answered her; he freed her from all her fears."

Nahum 1:7 - "The Lord is good; he protects Susan, his child, in times of trouble."

Praying for Susan

Praying for Susan using scripture helped me connect with her and with God in a way that added depth to our friendship and closeness to God during her time of need. I was honored to pray using words God gave her.

Next time someone asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask them if there is a scripture to which he/she feels close. I will use those words as I remember them daily.

Even though Susan lives five hours away, I feel close to her heart and united in prayer.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you give us many ways to come to you. Thank you for reminding me that I can pray for others using your holy word. Amen.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

"How A Simple Prayer "Jesus Come" Brings Freedom

Every Saturday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I swim a mile at the fifty meter outside pool at the Jordan Y. I like the challenge of an extra twenty-five meters of most in-door pools.

Usually I begin my swim using hand paddles made of thick plastic and a float between my knees. Strengthening my upper body happens when I swim using only my arms.

Last Saturday, my fingers were getting sore and a little numb as I completed the thirty-sixth lap, a half-mile. I slipped the paddles and the float onto the pool  deck and began the next thirty-six laps with the freestyle stroke. Swimming into the fullness of the water, I felt my energy shift.

My uncomfortable fingers locked onto the paddles by thick rubber tubes became a metaphor for the way my mind was interlaced with negative thoughts that seemed to burrow in my brain like worms going through tunnels in the dirt. With each stroke I felt a burden lift and a feeling of freedom emerge as I went from one side of the pool to the other, adding laps with each stroke.

When I first began my swim, I wondered how I would ever emerge with refreshment that I usually
experience. Negative thoughts increase suffering and suffering weighs heavily. Removing the paddles
released the pain in my hands and heart, allowing for Jesus to come, my mantra for a dozen laps.

Sometimes a simple one-or-two-word phrase or mantra becomes a prayer asking God to adjust my heart and move on to healthier thoughts. Swimming through the water, my hands moving like a paddle, my legs the motor, the water washes over me, bathing my body in cleansing ways.

When I touched the deck after 72 laps and jumped out of the pool meeting the chilly mid-60's degree temperature, I felt renewed and restored. Walking to the basket where the floats are kept, I looked once again at the water holding all of the negativity I released.

I am thankful for the way God worked when my simple prayer, "Jesus come" was received from a heart struggling to float.

Prayer: God, thank you for the way two simple words can summon depths of your healing balm to a troubled soul. Remind us we can always come to you, with simple ways that can reach the expanse of your love. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Baking Communion Bread

A few years ago I received an email from one of the pastors of the church I attend asking me to bake five loaves of bread for communion the next Sunday. Five loaves seemed overwhelming, so I agreed to two.

I remember I hardly felt worthy to bake bread as I was dealing with with anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness, and confusion as well as forgiveness in the tangled web I imaged my life. I was afraid all of my feelings would transfer to the dough I kneaded and molded.

Baking bread is usually one of the ways I connect with God. I even wrote a day-long retreat "Praying with Bread."

That day, however, I was in a different state of mind. I went through the motions, mechanically, not prayerfully or reverently, gathering and combining numerous ingredients, putting the smooth dough in my favorite brown glass bowl for the first rising. The bowl was the last of a nesting set we received forty years ago for a wedding gift. The bowl held hundred of batches of dough, but that day's batch was the first to become the body of Christ.

The dough quickly doubled in size. I took half the dough from the bowl, powdered a handful of flour on the sticky places, molded a circle and placed in a buttered aluminum pan. I repeated the procedure with the remaining dough.

Before placing the pans in the oven, I studied the loaves. In those mounds of flour I saw the yeast of anger, loneliness, resentment, anxiety and other areas of disconnect in my life, along with forgiveness, blended into bread for God's people on Sunday morning. Oh, my!

When I arranged the two loaves in the over I prayed that all negative feelings would bake out of me and right to the heart of Jesus, whose body I formed that day.

Sunday Morning

I walked into the sanctuary the next day and found a pew close to the front in sight of the two oval forms of bread covered with embroidered white cloths resting in the middle of the altar. I thought about the sugar, flour, yeast and milk, which I had plucked from noisy grocery shelves days before, now transformed into one of the most meaningful aspects of Christian liturgy in a quiet church on Sunday morning.

Then I recalled my prayer the day before, as those loaves entered the oven. As I sat in that pew and examined my heart, I realized even before receiving communion, I felt peace. The negativity had burned away, my feelings now resting in Jesus' heart.

Mike and I assisted the pastors serving communion. I baked the body of Christ, and gave the body of Christ to those attending, completing a holy cycle.

Maundy Thursday

Sometimes during Holy Week I think about the bread served on that first Maundy Thursday. Who baked the loaf of bread Jesus used that night? Maybe the person was someone like me, filled with anxiety, anger, loneliness and other troubling concerns. Maybe they felt that same sense of release and relief in baking the bread? Someone always prepares the bread to offer God's people - I pray each baker always finds release as they pass along through the body of Christ, a blessing and peace to all who believe.

Prayer: Thank you God for the way ordinary tasks can bring us into your presence. You are in all we do. Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

If You Find This Letter

Two years ago our family celebrated the marriage of our oldest daughter, Sarah, to her fiance, Ryan.. We met several of their friends, including, Adam, who introduced them.

As we talked, Adam said, "I really appreciated the letter you wrote me a few years ago when I took Sarah to the airport. I'd never received a letter!"

Never received a letter? Ever?

Astonished, I asked a few questions and discovered that Adam is from Denver, (where Sarah and Ryan lived). He had always lived in Denver so there wasn't any reason for anyone in his family to write him. So the only person far enough to write was a mother in the Midwest, grateful for his kindness toward her daughter who was living in his hometown, hundreds of miles away from Indianapolis.

Letters and Hanna Brencher

Following our return from the wedding, Adam's comment stuck with me. I made a trip to Barnes and Noble to get a book for a friend having surgery. and found Hanna Brencher's book If You Find This Letter.

Letters were important to Hannah. She cherished the letters her mother wrote when she was attending college. In fact, when she moved to New York City following graduation for a job, she decorated the walls of her apartment with letters from her mother and friends.

"Even after I packed up the letters and took them home, " Hannah wrote, "I always wondered what it might be like to give something like that - a bulging package of love letters - to someone I don't even know. To someone who might never get that sort of thing otherwise. Stranger or not we all need the same kind of reminders sometimes. Your're worthy. You're golden."

In her search to find meaning, purpose and direction in a large city, she wondered if other people would like to receive a letter as a way  to bring love and affirmation to their lives. Riding the subway gave her ample opportunity to observe the cross-section of people living in New York. She focused on those who looked forlorn and lost, an image of how she felt inside as she adjusted to a new job and acclimated to a new home.

Writing Letters

Hannah wrote letters to people she saw describing her struggles, trying to find her way emotionally, professionally, as she tried to create a sense of place in a large city. She tucked the letter in an envelope and wrote on the outside, "If you find this letter ...... then it's for you." She placed the letters in subway seats, on bathroom sinks, slipped a few into coat pockets in department stores, in fitting rooms, in the library, all over town.

Over time, the act of writing letters to hundreds of people brought her to a place of peace and purpose, and the loneliness that seemed to follow her every step since she arrived  disappeared.

My Letter Writing

I enjoy writing letters too. I can often express thoughts from my heart more deeply when I write. My daughters who live far away, receive letters from me regularly. While reading the book, I decided to follow Hannah's example not only as a writing exercise, but also an activity to expand my heart and deepen compassion toward those strangers I encounter.

I reminded myself each morning to be alert to someone to whom I could write a letter. I held the image of that person in my heart throughout the day and when I had a moment, I wrote a letter I  would "give" them. A few of the people who "received" my letters include a woman at the post office carrying two large parcels one under each arm, a neighbor who has yellow chairs in the front yard, a young woman walking into the library with a coffee cup held high and a large book under her arm.

Like Hannah, however, I grew weary of writing letters in a notebook and carrying them in my bag. I decided to duplicate Hannah's method; write a letter, put it in an envelope, and drop the envelope wherever I went. At least someone will receive my words of encouragement and love.

I wrote ten letters with the message below:

     "Dear Friend,
    The cloth heart is a reminder that you are loved just the way you are. You are valued and loved for all you do. Your life matters to so many and the love you give sustains and provides comfort.
                                                                             A Friend

I folded the letter and tucked inside a heart I cut from fabric scraps. I also included on a separate piece of paper this sentence of explanation" "A letter of encouragement and love to a stranger." - based on Hannah Brencher's book, "If You Find This Letter."

Addressing the envelope according to Hannah's directive - "If you find this letter it is yours," I  set off with my bundle.

Where Did I Place My Letters?

The ten letters I wrote found homes in a restaurant, a confessional booth in a Catholic Church, at a local YMCA, a grocery store, on a stack of books at the library, and in the pocket of a jacket at Target.

Interestingly, during the two-week time I was delivering letters, I received three letters in the mail; one from a former neighbor, one in the form of a picture from my nine-year-old friend, and a thank you note.

My story with Adam's letter has come full circle. Writing a letter of gratitude to him left an imprint on his heart. His comment awakened me to Hannah's book reinforcing the importance of the lost art of letter writing.

Reflection Question

1. Who among your circle of friends, family and acquaintances would benefit from a handwritten note? Take a moment, put your thoughts on paper and mail an envelope of compassion and care.

Prayer: God, you give us the example of Paul, who wrote letters to people in the churches he established. He offered encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and blessing to each since he was unable to regularly visit. Let us model our ways of expression to others following Paul so we can have a record of thoughts and feelings toward others they can reference forever. Putting our hearts on paper leaves a cherished legacy to the recipient. Amen.

                                 






Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Link - A Bridge of Love

Annabel Hartman mentored me in many ways since I first met her in 1983. She and her husband, Grover, were members of Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis where Mike served from November, 1983 to June, 1989.

Annabel care for me as a devoted mother would a child. She prepared meals periodically when I was pregnant with Anna. She attended Sarah's school programs, assuming the role of grandmother for both children with her interest and love. I appreciated Annabel's spirituality which helped me deepen my own walk with God.

Moving

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes, in June, 1989, I was sad to leave Annabel. We decided to keep in touch writing letters. Annabel, despite her work and church involvement was faithful to answer each letter I wrote. I have a basket containing her letters and cards saved through the years. Even after we returned to central Indiana in 1996, we still wrote letters.

A Link

In one letter I wrote Annabel, I shared my concern about "non-productive" activity such as driving children various places or participating in church activities. I lamented my lack of time to "cultivate my self" because of being engulfed by responsibilities to others.

Annabel replied, "We can be perpetually involved in worship, while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs. Can't just being in the company of others who need relationship cultivate the self? Driving kids is productive in that we become the servant. Doing odd jobs at church is productive if we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we. Just 'being' is enough for me, if in my position of 'being' I am becoming a bigger, better person because I am 'being' for someone else, however simple or menial the task or service." (letter dated May 10, 1990)

I prayed with her letter for many days. Through the years her phrase, "If we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we" left an imprint in my heart and altered my perspective of everyday tasks. Thinking of myself as a 'link' has brought value to all I do and to each interaction.

An Example of Being A Link

I was reminded of the importance of being a 'link' when I recently stopped at Walmart to purchase twenty-four yards of black fabric for Sarah to use on bulletin boards in her art room.

"Do you have black fabric?" I asked the employee in the craft department.

"I can't hear you," she replied. Thinking she might be hearing impaired, I repeated my question looking at her directly. She pointed to a row of solid fabric on the top shelf. I reached the bolt and brought it to the cutting table.

"I need twenty-four yards please."

"What are you going to do with twenty-four yards?"

"My daughter is an art teacher. She prefers fabric rather than paper on her bulletin boards."

"I like art too. When I was in Italy I hired a teacher who taught me to draw and paint. I won an art contest when I was in fourth grade. I did a lot of art through the years. My son is a really good artist. He draws faces that really look like the person. I like art a lot."

She seemed to cut with new energy as she turned the bolt over and over until cutting the last yard. She folded the fabric with a big smile, placing the pile in my hands."

"Thank you. You're a link to art, helping my daughter prepare her room."

She grinned, "I still like art very much."

A Look Ahead

Now my days are much less hectic. I am always mindful how I can be a link wherever I go. For example, when I hold the door open for the person behind me entering or exiting a store, I am a link to another's progress. When I affirm or encourage, I am a link to someone's growth. When I care for a friend's child, I am a link providing space for growth, pleasure or relaxation. My prayers link me to God in intentional ways for others or myself.

I am so grateful for Annabel's thirty-year influence on my life. I treasure the time I spent with her

How are you a link in the path you follow each day?

Prayer:  God, I ask you to guide my heart and direct my vision in ways I can be a link for others. The positive energy I receive when I think of myself as a link to those I encounter reminds me how Jesus used objects to explain or link us to you. Amen.






Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fill A Basket for A Month

Anna, our second daughter, used to be the director of marketing and media for an independent jewelry story in Portland, Oregon. When we visit her we spend some time at the store perusing the merchandise and watching the jewelry makers put together unique and classic earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

A few years ago when we were in Portland, I was captivated by a variety of colorful bowls the owners purchased during a trip to Guatemala. The tightly woven containers came in different shapes and depths. I purchased two knowing I would use them my self or for a gift.

Filling the Bowl

I was reminded of a story I read many years ago about bowls in a book by Sue Bender, Everyday Sacred - A Woman's Journey Home. Sue tells about a monk who left his home every day holding an empty begging bowl in his hands. Whatever was placed in the bowl would be his nourishment for the day.

Sue continues - "It was obvious to all who knew me that I wasn't a monk and the very idea of begging would make most of us uncomfortable. In spite of that, the image of a begging bowl reached out and grabbed my heart.

Initially I didn't know whether I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl or all three, but I trusted the words and the image completely."

Sue spends the rest of the book describing stories, experiences and people that filled her bowl over seven years.

My Own Bowls

Looking at the bowls I purchased from the jewelry store resting on my office floor, I considered how a bowl can teach three things about being present to God: open ready to receive and waiting to be filled.

A Project for August

Here's a project for the month of August, during this period in the liturgical year called "Ordinary."

1. Find a bowl. Maybe it's your favorite mixing bowl or your container for cereal.
2. Remember where you purchased the bowl and how you use it. If it was a gift, recall the occasion and the giver.
3. Bless the bowl. Hold the bowl in both hands. Ask God to keep your heart open like the bowl to receive whatever God might want to fill it with.
4. Invite God at the beginning of the day to fill your bowl. Ask God to keep your heart open so you are aware of how God is coming to you. Whatever you feel God leading you to include as the content in the bowl.
5. At the end of August look what filled your bowl. Examine the contents to see what comes to your heart.

My Experience

A few months ago, I filled a bowl for a month with scripture, prayers, newspaper clippings and photographs. I wrote insights and perspectives I received about life from other people, books or God that I wanted to remember. If I received a letter or note during this time, these found a home in the bowl too.

Dried peonies, my favorite spring flower, rested in my bowl, its beauty amplified while it dried. Small pieces of leftover fabric from sewing projects and a church bulletin with sermon notes also filled the bowl.

I carried the bowl just about everywhere I went - resting on the passenger side of the car or going with me from room to room in my house. God speaks anywhere and anytime. The bowl helped me remember to keep my heart open, ready to receive and be filled.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, fill us to overflowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Simple Gesture - Looking Behind

Tuesday, as I walked into the hospital where I'm a volunteer, I held open the door for the person behind me.

I heard a voice say chuckling, "Now my mother taught me I was supposed to open the door for you!"

Turning around I saw a tall, stocky older gentleman dressed in faded overalls and a blue T-shirt hold a single rose wrapped in florist paper.

Laughing, I replied, "Looking over my shoulder when I go through a door is a practice I started several years ago. You can open the next door, " I suggested, pausing in the entryway between the two doors leading to the hospital.

Many years ago I wanted to find ways to honor or affirm people I know as well as strangers. The simple act of holding the door for the person behind me to walk through is a way to honor Christ who lives in all and affirm a stranger who happened to cross my path. Not knowing what others are dealing with, I like to offer at least one act of kindness a person can remember from the day.

These lines from St. Patrick remind me to bring holiness to a common act:

     "Christ be with me, Christ within me

       Christ behind me, Christ before me."

Christ lives within me, so when I honor those who are behind and before me, I honor Christ.

Electronic doors open automatically needing no human assistance, but manual doors are everywhere, offering a chance to spread God's love to those who are behind. I step in front, and hold the door and in that moment, for the person who passes through, perhaps my presence represents Christ before them, and when I let the door close and follow them, perhaps I'm Christ behind them.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, keep our hearts open to serve others even in simple acts of opening a door, for all we do is in your name. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Honoring the Dead in Life

"I'm copying my own obituary," she said nonchalantly, while I was waiting to use the library copy machine.

"That's a good idea." I replied, Then I stopped. What did she mean by making a frank statement to a stranger? I assumed she's planning ahead. "You will have printed what you want said about yourself."

"Yes, I am an English teacher. I want things said the right way. It makes people uncomfortable, though, when I tell them. I met with the funeral director a few weeks ago, and he was shaken by my desire to make arrangements. He was young and new in the business. He wasn't expecting someone like me to show up. I have a disease. It's something we all avoid, you know."

I watched as she fumbled with ten or eleven sheets of handwritten papers, shuffling them occasionally, trying to get them in order. She had also spread two file folders all over the work table.

Helping Another

"Do you know how to work the machine?" she asked.

I showed her the simplest way to copy many pages.

"I'll move fast. I'm fast as General Motors!"

I stood back to take in this woman who opened her life to me in a minute. She was tan and healthy-looking, medium-built, robust and mid-seventies. She wore a black baseball cap, white knit top, black jeans and tennis shoes.

While a stack of papers went through the machine, she continued to shuffle another stack.

Getting Organized

"May I help you organize these?" I volunteered stepping over to the table where she was working.

"Well, those papers are my husband's obituary. These are mine. You take his and I'll work on mine."

I noted she numbered the pages so I put them in order.

"These are ready," I said handing her the stack.

"You go ahead and do your copying while I finish getting these in order."

I copied five pages from a book. I noticed she was still shuffling papers unable to reach any sense or organization.

"I'm done," I said.

"Thank you."

I looked at a few magazines when a librarian announced the library was closing in four minutes. I had not paid for my five pages. I returned the magazines to the shelf and glanced where the woman was still struggling. I returned to the table. "How many copies do you have?"

"Twenty-four."

"I'll add my five copies to your twenty-four and pay for both. The library is closing in one minute." She looked at me surprised, moving the papers all over the table.

Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak

Earlier that morning, I heard a sermon during morning worship at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York by the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, an activist born and raised in South Africa. He introduced the idea of prophetic faithfulness which interrupts the flow of evil for the reality of truth of the reign of God. He continued, "God wills peace, justice and wholeness."

Boesak challenged the congregation, "Don't worry if you can't save the world. Every act of compassion and justice - every embrace of one who is despised - saves one life. Interrupt the work of evil and bring the light of God's love and mercy to just one life."

I remembered Rev. Boesak's words as I listened to the woman talk about her impending death. The evil in her life was an unnamed disease to which she referred several times. I did not know her name, but I saw her as a woman determined to leave her own impression about her life for friends, family, and anyone else who reads the obituary page. I can't visit during funeral calling, but I could show compassion by paying for copies of her writing. I pray my actions "made the face of Christ shine" as Rev. Boesak concluded happens, when we take time for one life.

Prayer: Help us take time to look around wherever we go so we can notice someone who may need love. Remind us to set aside our agenda and "make the face of Christ shine." Amen.




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger - Welcoming Angels

Welcoming Angels

We arrived at the First United Methodist Church  of New Castle, Indiana, in June, 1976, for Mike's first appointment out of seminary. Young and ready to meet new people and begin ministry, we looked forward to hosting guests. The church arranged for Dr. Eli and Velma Hendrix to speak to the congregation on a mission Sunday. The couple traveled from Vincennes, a town situated in the western part of the state to speak about their work in Haiti.

Eli, an optometrist, and Velma, a nurse, regularly traveled to Haiti offering eye exams and donated glasses to the people.

Velma and Eli stayed with us in our small, two bedroom apartment. When they arrived, we were excited to meet them and learn about their numerous mission trips. Neither Mike or I were aware of what kind of outreach was happening in the small, poverty-stricken nation.

Velma and Eli were devoted to the Haitian people and had the resources to improve their quality of life. Despite having four children, regular trips brought joy to their hearts.

Mike and I listened to the stories Velma and Eli told as we ate breakfast before church. Their passion to bring improved vision to many people was strong and heartfelt. Our souls were blessed by their compassionate hearts and selfless service. We realized as we listened that we were entertaining angels sent by God to Haiti to do God's work.

After their presentation at church, we sent them on their way with gratitude for meeting these two servants.

An Interesting Twist

Mike's career found us moving from New Castle to Mt. Vernon, in 1979. After almost five years, we relocated to a church on the southside of  Indianapolis. Following that, in 1989, Mike was appointed to the First United Methodist Church in Vincennes, Velma and Eli's home church. 

We were excited to see our friends we'd hosted eleven years ago and to learn more about their church and family. When we drove into the parsonage driveway with our fully-packed cars, we followed instructions from Velma in a letter we received shortly before moving, to call when we arrived.

I took a minute to stretch my legs, went into the parsonage, and called our dear friend. Within minutes she was greeting us and welcoming us to our new community.

Although we weren't complete strangers, we were grateful for her warm welcome and prayed that during our time together at the church we could offer her and others in the congregation acts of love and service in God's name. 

Reflection

Welcoming strangers - new neighbors, new people at church or work - can sometimes feel scary. However, listen to where God may be leading as you interact with new people who were sent to you by God. Invite them to your home for dessert to make connections, hear new thoughts or ideas and possibly bring an angelic presence to your home and heart.

Hebrews 13:2 - Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing.

Angel: (noun) a person who performs a mission of God or acts as if sent by God.

Prayer: God, you direct us to love one another as you have loved us. We see how Jesus modeled hospitality and love in the way he greeted all whom he encountered. Give us boldness to invite others in your name so that our souls can be stirred, our hearts blessed and new perspectives welcomed as we grow closer to you and others in the kingdom. Amen. 






Sunday, June 24, 2018

lt's All in the Hands - Baking Biscuits Full of Love

Crafting Happiness

"Crafting Happiness" an article in Whole Living magazine (June, 2010) speaks to the value of hands-on work to satisfy a primal craving to create solid objects. Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College, made an interesting observation while reading the Little House on the Prairie series to her daughter.

Thinking of the contrast between her own push-button lifestyle and Ma Ingall's day-in-day-out labor, she realized that hard physical work producing palpable results might be a source of pleasure. Ma's chores - collecting rainwater for baths, sewing every article of clothing for her husband and children - were no laughing matter. And yet, Lambert came to think, as connected as these tasks were to the survival of Ma and family, they were also quite rewarding.

She also notes that physical labor strongly influences well-being. Whenever we make something - bread, a scarf, a piece of pottery, biscuits, a quilt, art, "the brain's executive-thinking centers get busy planning, then happy anticipation begins, reaching out to other parts of the brain that make us dive our hands into action."

Baking Biscuits

I could identify with her observations because when I bake biscuits, I have quite a ritual that begins with the thought, "I want to make biscuits for _______. She is sick, celebrating a birthday, just had a baby, I enjoy being her friend, she is going through a rough time etc."

Then I light a candle to remind me I am in God's presence doing holy work.

Gathering the ingredients takes me to two cupboards. Pouring the ingredients into the bowl allows more time for reflecting on my purpose for baking.

Feeling the texture of the dough helps me know if I need to add more flour.

Finally, putting the dough on the kitchen table, ready to knead, allows me to add prayer and thanksgiving for the person I am remembering. Kneading my love along with God's love as I turn and fold the dough reminds me as I create I am not working alone.

The Pleasure of Baking Is Tied To Touch

About a year ago, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine section (April 30, 2017), "It's All in The Hands" featured Dorie Greenspan, a young woman learning to bake from her mother-in-law, a professional baker.

Dorie described her first experience touching dough. "Had I been more experienced, more attuned to the language of baking, I might have understood that everything I needed to know about dough was in my hands. But my hands didn't know enough then. Today they're my trustiest tool."

I know this from my own experience with biscuit-making. The touch of my hands on the dough is a good barometer of the readiness of the dough for baking. They are definitely my trustiest tool too!

Greenspan continues, "Baking is handwork and for me, all that is joyful, comforting, gratifying and even magical about this work is packed into the simple act of baking biscuit. I practice a kind of meditation while I make them. I concentrate on how each step feels - not because it makes a better biscuit, but because I like having my senses on high alert, anticipating and responding to the dough's change."

I thought I might be the only one who thought of the deep meaning and beauty of praying with thankfulness for the recipients of each biscuit I bake, kneading love into the dough itself, but Greenspan follows a similar process.

"By the time I pry open the baked biscuits, cover them with strawberries and top it all with whipped cream, my handprints are baked into them. So are a large measure of joy and a small pinch of hope. Maybe what I've baked will linger in someone's memory or even make a new baker."

Yes, I feel like Dorie, my handprints and love baked into each biscuit ready to share with someone else. It's all in the hands, but I believe it's all in the heart, too.

A Reflective Activity

1. Decide on an activity that you want to complete with an awareness of God's presence.

2. Light a candle. Take a deep breath. Say a simple prayer, "God, you are with me as I _____."

3. Complete the task.

4. Reflect on your experience of intentionally asking to be aware of God's presence while you worked.

Prayer:  God, we find you in the everyday experiences of our lives. We don't have to go anywhere to have a glimpse of you because you are right where we are. Everything we do can draw us closer to you and enable us to listen more deeply for the Holy, a connection to the sacred. Guide our awareness so we can keep our hearts open to you for your words, your strength, perseverance, guidance, compassion or whatever we need. Amen.




Sunday, June 17, 2018

Showing Up

Showing up is a phrase I use almost every day. Just this morning I was talking to a woman at the YMCA. She mentioned her reluctance to get out of bed on a cloudy, rainy day to exercise.

"At least you showed up," I offered, "even though you didn't feel like coming to spend time on the equipment."

"You are right," she replied with a grin. "I showed up, now I am ready to go to the fitness center, then I can go out to lunch with a friend."

"Have fun!" I added, as she walked away carrying a thick book.

Writers Show Up

Writers are often encouraged to "show up" at their desks or laptops to encourage a daily writing routine even if there aren't any thoughts to record. "Showing up" means you are half-way to beginning another essay, short story, blog entry, poem or other form of written expression. Moving a pencil on paper or fingers over a keyboard begins to generate words into thoughts, ideas and sentences. "Priming the pump," as people used to say long ago, to get started, get moving or continue thoughts still works today.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Recently I heard well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. Elizabeth was promoting her book, Big Magic. When talking about life, she said, "You win already by just showing up."

"Showing up" relates to all parts of life, showing up to work, showing up to a friend in need, showing up for a committee meeting, showing up for a service project - the list is endless. "Showing up" relates to our ways of being present to each other even when circumstances are challenging. My friend, Ann, "shows up" to visit her elderly father in an assisted living facility several times a week despite having a less than stellar childhood. She perseveres in her visits to show love and compassion, energized by God's love.

Kara Tippett

A few years ago I heard Kara Tippett speak at a fund-raising even for the Megan S. Ott Foundation that helps persons diagnosed with breast cancer. Kara's cancer had recently spread to her brain and other vital organs. The foundation brought her to Indianapolis to address family, friends and others who had read her book, The Hardest Peace. Unfortunately Kara died a few months after she spoke.

While Kara was going through the last weeks of life, she and her friend, Jill Lynn Buteyn, wrote a book Just Show Up -the dance of walking through suffering together. Jill and Kara's book addresses the awkwardness that can come when a friend or family member is dealing with difficult circumstances or is dying. "Showing up" with a meal, or with a gift of time sitting in silence or holding his/her hand are meaningful ways to be present during the long days of terminal.

My Experience Showing Up Long Ago

I remember when Mike was serving a church in rural North Carolina while he was a student at Duke Divinity School.  One of the oldest members of the congregation died. I was so nervous about what to say to his elderly widow since being with people in grief was brand new to me. Mentally, I rehearsed a few sentences to say that I  hoped would offer comfort. When I saw the widow sitting on a couch in the living room,  I panicked and couldn't remember my "rehearsed speech." The receiving line of friends moved quickly and when I reached her, I recalled a few of my sentences, talking way too fast to someone who probably didn't retain a word I said. What was important, however, was that I "showed up", I was there, I spent a few minutes with her and in so doing held her grief, sharing her loss.

Reflections on Showing Up

Through the years, I've learned "showing up" for those dealing with difficulty is simple, but hard. Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you feel comfortable, a hug or embrace conveys love, compassion, companionship and support. No words are needed.
2. Food is always helpful. Waiting for someone to call when they realize a need for nourishment may not come. Difficult circumstances make simple tasks, like picking up the phone and dialing a number a challenge. Call ahead to make sure there is someone to receive your gift of compassion and care.
3. Send a card. Write a message of encouragement or a memory you have if a person has died. Sometimes I cut out a heart from fabric to include a tangible symbol of love to convey continued connection for a person who is struggling through challenging circumstances.
4. Let the person discuss whatever he or she desires. Recently, when Mike and I made a hospital visit to our long-time friend, Bill, dealing with inoperable cancer, the conversation centered around the ingredients listed in a container of Boost, his liquid nourishment for many weeks. Boost was important to Bill in these moments, so that is what we discussed.

God "shows up" every day. "Showing up" to God can take many forms - prayer, worship, singing, acts of service, participation in small groups, taking a walk, art or other ways reflecting our individual ways of being with God.

Prayer: God, you "show up" wherever we are everywhere and in everyone. Open our hearts to see you. When we "show up" and absorb you, we can "show up" to others in your name. Amen.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Kate Bowler God Is Love


Recently, (April 1), I wrote about thirty-seven-year-old Kate Bowler's latest book, Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved. The book grew from her experiences following a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer two years ago.

The spring 2018 issue of the Duke Alumni Magazine arrived this week with a feature and update on Kate, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. The article reports that she is now part of a small group of patients receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment which seems to be working. She has a CT scan every ninety days and if nothing has spread, if nothing looks worse - she gets another three month reprieve.

"She describes her life now as 'vine to vine.' She chooses the best vine available, hopes there'll be another one after that one, and gives her best swing, over and over and over."

She adds, "My own post-diagnosis world has brought me into a different relationship with God."

In the midst of heartbreak, she has been surprised to feel the presence of God more powerfully. "The only category I understand more is the love of God. Both the experience of wanting to be close to God and the surprise of the feeling that God is close to me."

The Love of God

The love of God is core to our beliefs as Christians. I remember when I was a child attending Sunday school in an Episcopal Church, a song we sang almost every week is the early 20th century children's hymn "God Whose Name Is Love." The verses include the following:

         God whose name is love, happy children we,

         Listen to the hymn that we sing to thee.

         Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

         God whose name is love, loving may be be.

Carrying this song in my heart over sixty years speaks to the importance of the words as a foundation to my life. The song not only describes who God is - love - but also offers a challenge in the last line - "loving may we be" - how to live with others.

Growing up in a home that was less than loving made the words in this song even more important. I recall praying at my desk in elementary school or on the playground at recess and feeling God's love in my heart. God's love sustained me then and continues to ground me at all times.

Jesus Is Love

Jesus, the embodiment of God's love, models throughout the gospels how to treat others, even those who are outcasts or on the fringe of life. He affirmed others by acknowledging them as children of God, which brought healing and strength to those people who came to hear him preach and teach.

Filled and fueled by God's love, Jesus made an impact and modeled life by God's design.


Showing Love Unexpectedly

The church I attend has a small table in the front of the sanctuary filled with tiered layers of votive candles available for lighting. Every week when the service ends, Mike and I light two candles and pray.

On Sunday, May 6, just after I lit my candle and turned to walk away, a lady approached, crying. I paused and put my arm around her for a few minutes as she lit a candle and continued sobbing. She slowly gained control of her emotions and I left.

A few minutes later, I was passing through the fellowship hall or "donut room," where people gather to drink coffee or eat a donut and visit. I saw her and as I approached, her eyes filled with tears. When I gave her another hug, I said, "I prayed that you would feel God's love and presence." She smiled.

Opportunities for spreading God's love are everywhere and often unexpected.

Love

Dealing with a serious illness has shaken and changed Kate Bowler. She says, "I do possess a solid belief in God, but I don't call that faith. I don't know what faith is. I really don't. I just don't know what it means now."

Despite her struggles with faith and certainty, Kate is resting in the love of God to sustain her through these days as she teaches and is a wife and mother.

Although my path has not involved illness, a simple song in Sunday school launched me into God's abundant love and gave me hope when I was in elementary school. I hold onto that same hope all these years later.

          Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

          God whose name is love, loving may we be.

Reflection Questions

1. What is sustaining you when life is hard?

2. How can you  model Jesus' love and the last line in my childhood song, "loving may we be" to family, friends and even strangers?

Prayer: Generous God, you lavish your love on us in the ways you offer care for our bodies, minds and souls. Even though we sin and fall short of where we need to be as your children, your abundant
love comes to us wherever we are. Let us be grateful for your never ending goodness. Amen.









































Sunday, June 3, 2018

Troubling the Water


Tracy K. Smith, 2018 poet laureate of the United States, seeks to raise national awareness for a greater appreciation of reading and writing poetry.

Tracy is using her stipend of $35,000 to visit rural areas where most writers are unlikely to travel. She says, "I want to just go to places where writers don't usually go, where people like me don't usually show up and say, 'Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'"

The cover story of the April 15, 2018, New York Times magazine features Smith. "The meditative state of mind a poem induces, she believes, can be a 'rehumanizing force,' an antidote to the din of daily life, in which our phones continuously buzz with news alerts perfectly algorithmed to reinforce our biases."

One of Tracy's Favorite Poems

One of the poems she likes to read to the audience is "Wade in the water/God's gonna trouble the water." God's 'troubling the water' is a reference to a line in the gospel of John 5:1-7, testifying to divine healing. Sick people are gathered around the pool at Bethesda.

She explains, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever the first after the troubling of the water steeped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Trouble on the surface of the water is a sign of God's presence."

My Experience with John 5:1-7

I've been swimming laps at least five days a week since 1975. Mike and I started swimming when he was a seminary student at Duke University Divinity School.

Through the years swimming became a place of silent worship as well as a great way to exercise.

When I studied John 5:1-7 a few years ago, I decided to begin by taking my hand and "stirring the water" before entering the pool, asking God to bless my time and speak to me while I swim.

Over the years, swimming back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, I've received insights and perspectives for my life as well as images to draw. I've felt God hold me close as I worked through anger, and resentment and dealt with other topics of concern.

Afterwards, I get out of the pool and shake off the water that still coats me with God and helps me emerge with a soul cleansed and refreshed.

God Still Troubles The Water Today

God still troubles the water today, with words for the poet, Tracy Smith, with insights for me when I swim, and for others who hear God's voice.

Reflection Questions

1. In what circumstances have you experienced "troubling the water" - God's presence in life?

2. How can you "trouble the water" for others?

Prayer: God, you "trouble our lives" every moment we breathe as your presence is always available no matter what is happening. We don't need water for "your troubling" to happen, for wherever we are, you are. Your troubling blesses our lives and keeps us close to you. Amen.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Barking to the Choir - Father Greg Boyle


During the last two weeks of April, the local public radio station conducted the semi-annual pledge drive to raise funds for programming.

One day during this period, Terry Gross' show, "Fresh Air," was re-broadcast of a November 17, 2017, interview with Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He has also written two books, Tattoo on the Heart - The Power of Boundless Compassion (2011) and Barking to the Choir - The Power of Radical Kinship (2017). Each provide interesting and inspiring reading.

Mike and I heard Father Boyle speak in July, 2016, at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year, we took four gang members for ice cream, two men and two women, who were visiting Chautauqua for a week. We learned so much from them about developing positive life skills and gaining employment after being part of Father Boyle's ministry.

What Is Prayer?

Toward the end of Terry's interview, she asked Father Boyle about prayer.

"What is the role of prayer in your life?" she asked.

He replied when he was a child, his prayers were rote and petitionary, such as "Please help me pass my math test since I didn't have time to study."

As he grew older, his prayer life changed and became more meditative using mantras such as "resting in You, resting in me." He says, "Prayer helps me find God at the center of my life."

Now that statement is a far cry from a petitionary prayer asking God for something to happen. Father Boyle has moved beyond asking to searching and seeking God in his life through prayer.

My Thoughts

I deeply connected with his words as I do not make petitionary prayer. I bring people for whom I pray each day to God, but I don't ask for specifics. I believe God is aware of their circumstances, so I pray, "God I bring you _____," and let God work.

Father Boyle also acknowledged another one of my beliefs: God cannot protect us from adversity, but as we step into the wideness of God's presence, God will sustain us through any hardship that comes our way.

Hearing Father Boyle speak again was affirming as I connected with the message he proclaimed at Chautauqua and then on "Fresh Air." I treasure the mile I walked with him on the grounds of Chautauqua as we were both returning from a meeting and heading to dinner.

Reflection:

1. How is prayer for you?
2. What does prayer mean for you?
3. Are you involved in petitionary prayer or in a style that seeks to find God at the center of your life?

Prayer: God, you give us direction on prayer in the Bible, but sometimes we come to you begging for results when we really need to be reminded and reassured of your presence to sustain and to guide. Give us encouragement to seek a new perspective on prayer and strength to try new ways of being with you. Amen. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Thank You Note - A Nice Surprise



Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 87-year-old, I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year, along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning if I live to my eighties I hope to have the energy and zest for life I see in Katie.

This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude she added, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"

I chuckled when I read her words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life..
Another Unexpected Thank You

A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.

Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for this gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to a volunteer or hospital employee. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.

My Own Experience with Thank You Notes

Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that habit from my past into adulthood. I taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as 'thank you'. I continue to write and send them myself all these years later as a habit and a joy - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift until I write a thank you note.

Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor, for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.

I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.

Jesus Says Thank You

Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people, and at the last supper.

Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.

Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."

Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.

Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me" (John 11:41-42).

Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of
bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them" (Matthew 15:35-36).

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it" (Luke 22:19).

Jesus knew the value of giving thanks to God.

More Thanks From Reader's Digest

The April, 2018 issue of Reader's Digest contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime" (pages 110-117).

Fifteen people share their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."

Final Thoughts

Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you not for bringing us a meal after we moved.

Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."

At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but I surely have written a lot of thank you notes over Mikes 37 years with churches because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.

Prayer: God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks and praise. Amen.