Sunday, August 18, 2019

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?

Every Tuesday, I am a volunteer chaplain at the Indiana University North Hospital. Each week, I look forward to meeting people and helping those I encounter. When I enter the hospital, I am always looking for those who need assistance.

There are always those persons who are lost and need direction in or out of the hospital or to a doctor's office. I can read the expression on their face when they appear lost and ask, "How can I help you."

I know I represent the hospital, so I try to be as observant and helpful to those I see in the lobby or on the patient floors.

A Visitor Experience

A couple of weeks ago, I had just arrived, logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I am always on the look out for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those yellow plastic signs to set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty, plastic bottles.

"I'll be right back." I knew the cafeteria had the same kind of Pepsi she liked, so I purchased two bottles.

Realizing, I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bag with the bottles and went on my way, carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave my self a rating of fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take a few extra minutes to ask why she was in the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked by the where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is also a reminder to take a few extra minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances, especially when I am at the hospital. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office to prevent a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to others.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments in some way so you can remember how you have been the heart of God to others.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me to pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen to those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Walking Around the Elephant in the Room

Yesterday, my friend, Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was suddenly diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.

We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then, we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan's arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms. Laughing helped break the tension we were all feeling.

We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn't be ruined.

Sue brought some books to leave. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late were not allowed on the cancer floor.

As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.

She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. "This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?"

We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.

"Yes," I said. "I know someone." One of my daughter's friends, had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.

Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.

However, we knew our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.

How Do We Approach People Who Are Confronting Difficult, Life-Threatening Illnesses

Here are some suggestions.

1. Show Up - It's never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit, mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional discomfort.
2. Bring somthing for the person to do. - Hospital days can be long. If the person left home in a hurry, as our friend, Jan, did, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
3. Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. - He or she will let you know what to talk about.
4. If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. - Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You'll offer comfort through your words.

By the time we left, Jan seemed more relaxed than when we first arrived- in fact when I turned to wave good-bye, she had a huge smile on her face. I want to believe we were vessels of God's love and our care and concern will linger in Jan's heart when she is afraid or lonely.

Prayer:  God, thank you for strength needed  to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for you are the great provider. Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Words From The Marketplace

Thoughts or new perspectives can come from unexpected places. Here are a few words of wisdom that came as I was "going through my day" the past few weeks.

The Kroger Parking Lot

During a recent rainy Saturday, I went to my favorite Kroger on the northside of Indianapolis. When I got out of the car, I noticed a Kroger employee gathering grocery carts scattered across the parking lot.

I walked by and said, "What happens when it rains and you are collecting carts?"

"I get the good Lord in my face," she replied with a big grin.

Now that's a new perspective! I dodged rain drops, pushed open my umbrella and rushed into the store.

My Church

John, the evening custodian at the church I attend, is a retired postal service employee who was part of a class I taught on prayer a few years ago. When I go to the church every Monday night to lead a support group, John is usually vacuuming the carpet. His positive, upbeat attitude is always refreshing.

One evening, I asked how he was doing and he replied, "Making things happen!"

"That's a great motivating phrase, " I replied, reflecting on how I can take the initiative to bring about good in the world.

Indiana University Hospital

Sue, the director of volunteer services at the hospital where I volunteer each Tuesday, is a former nurse. She managed a floor for many years before retiring and taking a part-time job with volunteer services.

Sue is full of wisdom gained from dealing with patients, families and hospital staff through the years.
When I finished my shift one day, I overheard her talking to a new volunteer, "Always manage up," she said.

She later explained when I asked about the phrase, "Always be positive and encouraging with people." Although she was referring to those she encountered in the hospital, her words can apply to any interaction.

My Thoughts

Walking in the rain through the grocery store parking lot, talking with a custodian at church and listening to a former nurse -  all unsuspecting places to glean new thoughts and insights in the marketplace of my life.

For Your Reflection

1. Be mindful of the places and people where you go each day. Listen to what you hear people saying, even though they may not be talking to you. What can you learn?

Prayer: God, thank you for people who spread your word with phrases that have come to them through their life experiences. Keep our ears and hearts open to receive what you want us to capture wherever we go. Amen.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Confession at 22,000 Feet

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

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

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

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

I asked a few questions about his work, and told him what Mike and I did.

That opened him up. He began.

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

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

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

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

He continued to talk as I rested my hands on the small quilt for a baby shower in a few weeks.

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

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

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

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


"Thank you. We will."

Our conversation ended just as the "fasten seatbelt sign" flashed and the attendant alerted us the plane was making the final descent.

I took a few pins out of the little quilt. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence and holding the quilt provided a holy background for the outpouring of this gentleman's heart. As I folded the quilt to tuck away in my bag, I knew that all I heard and carried to God was held in the fabric resting on my lap.

Reflection Questions

1. When have you provided a listening ear for someone in an unexpected place?

2. Is it hard or easy to put down your agenda for the time and be completely present to another?

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"You Can't Force The Heart"

 Sue Monk Kidd's  ( author of The Invention of Wings, The Secret Life of Bees, and other novels) early writings appeared in Guideposts and other books and magazines addressing spiritual topics. One of my favorite pieces of her writing appeared in "Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life," November/December, 1990, The subject of the bi-monthly publication was "Compassion."

Sue described an experience when she was 12, visiting a nursing home with her church youth group. She wanted to go swimming with her friends on this particular day close to the end of summer, but her mother made her go to the church event.

Sue first visited an elderly woman whose appearance saddened her - "the worn down face, the lopsided grin, the tendrils of gray hair protruding from a crochet lavender cap." Sue gave the woman a bouquet of crepe paper flowers.

"The woman looked at her and said, "You didn't want to come, did you child?

The words stunned me. They were too painful, too powerful, too naked in their honesty. 'Oh yes, I wanted to come,' I protested.

A smile lifted one side of her mouth. 'It's ok,' she said. 'You can't force the heart.'"

My Own Heart Experience

Many  years later, after reading the article in Weavings, I had a similar experience. When I was employed as a speech pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, I worked two weekends a quarter. I worked an eight hour day on Saturday, but Sunday, I could keep my pager on, and only go in if there was an emergency.

One particular Saturday, I was tired, I wanted to stay home and dreaded going in. When I reached the hospital, checked the stack of patient folders left from Friday and started making my rounds. Most of my patients were on the neurology floor.

Entering one gentleman's room, a stroke patient, I introduced myself and explained what we were going to address. He looked at me and said, "You didn't want to come in today did you?"

He shocked me into reality. How could he know my thoughts - that I really wanted to be home spending time with my teenage daughter?

I stumbled for words, just like Sue did, and finally said, "Oh, no! I'm glad to be here."

What betrayed my heart? Was it something in my facial expression or demeanor that conveyed my true feelings? Even though he'd had a stroke, he was able to perceive what I did not want to express.

When I walked out of his room forty-five minutes later, I remembered Sue Monk Kidd's article.

I couldn't force my heart. My face had betrayed me and the compassion I wanted to convey to this patient as well as to all my other patients that day was empty and gone. I was dishonest with God, with myself and especially with a patient I wanted to serve.

The Rest of My Day

Walking up and down the hospital halls seeing patients the rest of the day, I asked God to take my weariness and give me strength so I could be present and focus sincerely on each person I encountered. I did receive energy as the day progressed and felt the return of heartfelt compassion which I usually brought to my work.

When I drove home reflecting on the day, I realized I needed to be honest with God before I left home especially on the Saturdays I worked, in order to have a heart ready to give care that would honor God, despite what I was feeling. Putting "myself on the shelf" for the duration of my work is attainable with God.

For your Reflection

1. Have there been times when you didn't want to go or do something, personally or professionally, but had to? What was your experience?

Prayer: God, many times our feelings surface in ways that prevent us from being as sincere and compassionate as we desire. Sometimes we do have to force our hearts, to go through a day when we are overcome with our own struggles, desires or fatigue. Help us remember Jesus' words, "Come to me all who are weary and heavy and I will give you rest." Hold and carry our hearts and give us strength to complete our tasks until we can rest in you.  Amen.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Sustaining Presence of Rituals

Ritual - an established procedure for a religious or other rite; a book of rites or ceremonies.

Almost everyone has rituals for beginning their day - awakening, a shower, eat, got to work, stay at home, have lunch, dinner, sleep. That's a basic outline with many individual modifications.

Athletes sometimes observe rituals before a game - eating certain foods, listening to favorite music and wearing specific clothes. Before I jump into the water to swim, I ask God to bless my time as I go back and forth, making these moments holy and meditative.

My ritual each morning links me to God, shortly after I awaken. I go to my desk, say the Lord's Prayer out loud twice, pray for my family and friends, record my gratitude from the previous day, reflect on a few verses of scripture and if an image surfaces, I record it. These practices are observed before I go downstairs, ground my day in God.

Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of spending more time in the morning reading the Bible and in prayer. When I worked, however, I developed an abbreviated form of centering, using my 30 minute commute to pray and then read a prayer before I got out of my car. Sometimes, it's necessary to be creative and find a meaningful ritual with God.

Coffee Ritual

The March, 2016, issue of The Oprah Magazine, had a short feature called "Coffee Mate." The author describes how she got to know the barista who filled her coffee order each morning. He always greeted her with a smile and asked how her day was going. She, in turn, got to know him as he shared stories about his family and desire to return to school. She said, "I've never told him my last name, yet he knows me from the milestones to the minutiae. Sure, he's a total stranger, but when he asks how I'm doing, he actually wants to know."

My daughters, Sarah and Anna, stop each morning for coffee on their way to work. They enjoy a light camaradarie and familiarity with the baristas who take their orders. When I asked Sarah, what she thought about "Coffee Mate," she replied, "It's all about the ritual."

And it is. There is something sustaining and familiar about being greeted by the same person at the coffee shop each day. Often the barista has the coffee waiting before an order is placed. Exchanging pleasantries and conversations builds a connection that can be foundational for the day.

Rituals to Sustain in Challenging Circumstances and Illness

Rituals can offer secure attachments for all stages of life. For moments of celebration, such as a birthday or graduation, we often have cake with words honoring the occasion, scripted on the top. Inivtations are sent, family and friends gather. Cards and gifts find their way to the person of honor. We know the pattern for celebration - the ritual for gathering and honoring has been set in place for many generations.

Daily living also brings challenges, such as a job loss or serious illness as well as frustrations or inconveniences like a broken computer, a tooth crown that comes off, glitches in event planning or a flat tire. Rituals to sustain in these circumstances can involve coming to church.

I grew up attending the Episcopal Church. Its Book of Common Prayer contains all of the services of worship for the calendar year. Holy Communion is celebrated the first Sunday of the month, followed by three Sundays that use the service of Morning Prayer. For the occasional fifth Sunday, Morning Prayer is repeated.

Despite living in an unpredictable, chaotic home, I knew what to expect each Sunday. I came to love the comforting presence of the ritual that became familiar over the years. The words and liturgy buried deeply in my heart, grounding me closer to God.

The January 18, 2016 Patheos blog, had an article about the importance of liturgy, written by Jonathan Algner who lives with depression. "The Black Dog, The White Pill and Liturgy," offers Algner's thoughts:

"If it wasn't for liturgy, I really might have been done. My depression is worlds better than it was last fall, but there are still times when I feel disconnected. I don't always feel my faith. I don't always feel God's presence. I don't always believe.

But I still go to church, and I say, sing and pray when my heart is often unable to do. Even when I don't believe, I say it (the liturgy) anyway. 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty ....' Even when I don't mean it I pray anyway, 'They kingdom come, they will be done...' Even when words fail, I listen anyway, 'The Body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you." And I know that I am no longer alone. It's restoring. Renewing. Reconciling.

And it's life giving. Even if all I can do is muster the energy to show up and do my job, the ritual of the liturgy, the word and sacrament, nourishes my faith at its weakest points and gives me strength to carry on.'"

Questions for Reflection

1. What rituals form your day?

2. What rituals are meaningful in worship and help practice your faith?

Prayer: God, part of our forming closer to your image involves rituals to increase an awareness of your presence to sustain us at all times. Guide us as we seek you each day. Amen.



Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Value of Pauses

Pause - a temporary stop or rest, especially in speech or action; a cessation of activity because of doubt or uncertainty; a moment of hesitation.

A few years ago,  I tunneled through frenzied Christmas shoppers at a local mall to reach a place of quiet in the second floor movie theater. My youngest daughter, Anna, had seen the movie "Brooklyn" in mid-November and thought I would enjoy it too. Since I was spending a few days with Anna at the end of the week, I wanted to make sure I saw it before our reunion.

My friend, Emily, who was almost twenty, joined me. After the movie I appreciated her observations giving me a youthful perspective on the plot.

The story was about a young, Irish woman, Eilis, who ventured to New York City to start a new life. She lived in a boarding house, found a job in a department store and quickly met a charming young man. Although her early months go smoothly, she misses her mother and sister.

Pauses in the Movie

Throughout the movie, I was captured by pauses that occurred. "Brooklyn" wasn't fast-paced, the plot evolved slowly and deliberately.

The pauses occurred in many spots, more than I remembered in most movies. When her boyfriend told Eilis he loved her, she paused, looked at him, put her face down and walked away. The audience was held in suspense wondering what she would say to an expression of love early in their relationship. Her pause and non-verbal reply seemed appropriate.

Whenever Eilis received letters from home, she held them in her hand before opening. Her pause  reflects her anticipation and excitement for the greetings from her mother and sister.

One day at the store, Eilis saw the priest of the church she attended and watched him move slowly toward the counter. She paused in the middle of a sale and watched his actions. Her affect continued without expression as the customer leaves. The priest paused, trying to find words to deliver the news of her sister's unexpected death.

Pauses in the movie illustrated the value of taking time to reflect before responding or experiencing the gift of a letter communicating unknown, but treasured contents, and wondering about the visit of a priest to a place of employment.

Pauses in everyday life offer space to think before speaking or writing. Quick answers during conversation can result in words not chosen well or feelings expressed in anger. Taking a few moments to pause before answering can lead to healthier and more meaningful conversation. The odds of harmful words or inappropriate expressions can decrease when pauses happen.

How Did Jesus Pause?

In John chapter 8, verses 1-22 Jesus was confronted by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought a woman to him who had committed adultery.

"Teacher," they said to Jesus. "this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what can you say?" They said this to trap Jesus so that they could accuse him."

Now this question carried great meaning and importance as Jesus was being "put to the test" so to speak by well-respected people in authority. Jesus, however, took a moment to pause before answering. He bent over and wrote in the ground - or as some described "in the dust that covered the land." His pause caused the Pharisees to pause, too, which might have increased their distress over not receiving an immediate answer.

Jesus finally replies, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."

After Jesus answered the question, he paused again, bent over a second time to write on the ground.

The Pharisees and teachers did not receive the answer they expected, so they went away.

Jesus demonstrated that pausing to reflect before answering questions is an important part of communication.

Can We Pause Today?

Pauses in our age seem few and far between. We push the pause button on movies to get more food or use the bathroom and then resume our feature. Often our answers to questions are "rapid fire," so we can move on to other topics. The art of pausing to reflect on an answer before speaking can give us time to collect our thoughts, to organize words so we can say what we want to convey.

Pauses in conversation are often seen as "awkward silences," but this awkwardness can give those engaging in conversation valuable time to reflect on what has been said, plan words and put together sentences that are most helpful.

A Way to Pause Last Lent

I recently found a book that I used during the past Lent called Pauses for Lent - 40 Words for 40 Days. The author invited the reader "to make a commitment to pause during each day of Lent, to read each brief meditation, and reflect on the word for the day." I appreciated the way the art of pausing created space in my life to listen to God and have continued to pause more frequently during my days to hear God's voice.

Emily and I left the movie theater chatting about our impressions. We were touched by the poignant scenes when Eilis said good-bye to her mother and sister before leaving Ireland. Emily focused on Eilis' character development throughout the movie, while I mentioned the pauses. The pauses framed tender moments in the movie making each one stand out in importance.

Later that evening, I remembered how Jesus paused twice before responding to the Phariseses. I appreciated the pauses practiced during Lent, encorporating the practice in every day life.

Prayer: Pausing seems counter-cultural, God, in our busy world where we are so connected with others, but must be intentional to stay connected to you. Guide our moments to include pauses when we can stop and reflect, for in these pauses we can seek you for words or insight as a way to dwell deeper in you. Amen.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part Two

Last week, I shared the story of the begging bowl - and how filling an empty bowl with whatever you desire can be a way of recognizing God's presence. My daughter, Anna, decided to choose a bowl and fill with various items. Here are her comments about the experience written two years ago.

"When I read my mom's post, I was filled with the customary inspiration that comes after reading her words. I connected even deeper to this particular post since the bowl she described came from the shop where I work. I am beyond delighted that something she bought during a visit to Portland inspired such a mindful project. When I read the call-to-action for her readers to also conduct a "bowl project," I knew it was something I wanted to do.

I have the classic conundrum of those with both a small living space and borderline hoarder tendencies: I don't have a lot of room in  my one bedroom apartment, but I do have a lot of things I want to keep. Most of these things are reminders of love. My parents are a constant reminder of love, and their acts are the things that remind me of God's love as well. My bowl - well not a bowl at all, but a rather small vessel handmade by one of my favorite ceramicists in Portland - became a place for holding these special things.

Often times, I am messy in my way of keeping track of these items that cross many miles to get to me and remind me that I am loved.  Having the bowl project gave me a devoted place to keep these things, a place that is beautiful in decoration and easy to access, but also didn't take up too much space in my apartment.

Things that found their way in there were mindfully placed momentoes of love: handwritten notes from my mom, an envelope addressed by my dad (just seeing familiar handwriting is a reminder of love to me), a movie ticket a friend bought me out of love - because we both needed to escape the heat and what better treat that a cool, dark theater?

Through this project, I learned that simply being open and ready to receive is enough to find oneself "overflowing with expressions of love," as my mom wrote. It doesn't have to take up a lot of space in your mind or on your countertop, nor is it complicated to catalogue. I never second-guessed what I put in the bowl, I just knew. Because I was open.

Ultimately my bowl experience was a fulfillment of my mon's prayer for her readers as the end of her post. That prayer reads: God, fill us to overlfowing 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.

Who doesn't want to feel that? I feel blessed that I did through this project, and continue to because of it."

Anna Reed - August 27


Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Begging Bowl - Part 1

A few years ago, my daughter, Anna, who lives in Oregon, was the director of marketing and media for "Betsy and Iya" an independent jewelry store in Portland. We when visited Anna, we always spent some time at the store, perusuing the merchandise and watching the jewlery makers put together unique and classic earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces.

During one visit, I was captivated by a variety of colorful bowls, the owners purchased during a trip to visit family in Guatemala. The tightly woven containers came in different shapes and depths. I purchased two, knowing I would use them for something in the future.

When we returned home, I was reminded of a story I read about bowls in a book by Sue Bender, "Everyday Sacred - A Woman's Journey Home. Sue talks about a  monk who left his home every day holding an empty bowl in his hands. Whatever was placed in the bowl was 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 during several years.

Thoughts on My Two Bowls

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

Here's a project for the summer during this period of time called "Ordinary" on the liturgical calendar.

1. Find a bowl. Maybe it's your favorite mixing bowl, your container for cereal or a decorative bowl.
2. Remember where you purchased the bowl and how you use it. If the bowl 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 each day to fill your bowl. Become aware of how God is coming to you. Whatever you feel God leading you to, include as content in the bowl.
5. At the end of July, look how your bowl was filled. Examine the contents to see what comes to your heart.

When I decided to fill a bowl for a few weeks, I discovered scripture, prayers, newspaper clippings and photographs coming my way. I wrote insights and perspectives I received about life from other people, books, or God I wanted to remember. If I received a letter or note during this time, these found a home in my bowl too.

Dried peonies, my favorite spring flower, rested in my bowl, the beauty amplified while drying. 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. The bowl rested on the passenger side of the car and followed me from room to room at home. God speaks anywhere and anytime. The bowl helped me remember to keep my heart open, ready to receive and be filled.

Reflection Question

1. How can an open bowl serve as a reminder to open your heart to God? Be curious about what can find a home in your bowl.

Prayer: 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, June 16, 2019

Comfort - to soothe, console; relief in afflictioin

A few years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross, at noon every day. She was interviewing the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote "The Sympathizer."

Mr. Nguyen described his family's flight from Viet Nam to San Jose, California, when he was in elementary school. His parents found work in a Vietnamese grocery store. After a year, they opened their own store that contained food items not available in any other place, such as huge sacks of rice, Vietnamese fruit and fish sauce called nuoc mam - the life-blood of Vietnamese cuisine.

The odor of the food products in the store, especially the scent of rice, fruit and spices, led Viet Nguyen to notice, "There was a kind of mustiness which I assume might have been alien to Americans, but to Vietnamese people, it was the smell of comfort."

Sources of Comfort

Comfort - I heard that word earlier in the week when I was visiting one of my favorite places, Conner Prairie, an 1829 village filled with costumed people playing various roles in homes and businesses of that era.

I was in the animal barn my usual first stop. Two large sheep were resting in front of a fan that was as tall as me - just under five feet. Both rested their heads on the metal guard enclosing the swirling blades.

I asked the attendant if the sheep were hot, especially since the outside temperatures were cool. She replied, "No, they just like to hear the noise of the fan. It brings them comfort."

"Like white noise that sometimes is used to lull babies and young children to sleep?" I asked.

She smiled, "Yes."

Hmm, I thought, sheep need comfort too. A few days later, I remembered the NPR feature on the comforting smell of the Vietnamese grocery store and reflected on the many ways we need comfort, both human and animals.

Comfort Food

A couple of weeks after my visit to Conner Prairie, I was reading the magazine section of The New York Times.  Turning to page 32, I found this headline, "The Ultimate Comfort Food - when things get tough nerves can be sooth by "aligot" cheesy mashed potatoes."

The author, Tejal Rao, states in the first paragraph,

     "In times of great stress or of flickering low-level dread, I find that cancelling all my plans and staying in to make mashed potatoes generally helps. This year there were quite a few opportunities to do so. Election-related anxiety gnawed at me for months, lighting up old networks of pain in my shoulders and back. I started a thrilling, but terrifying new job. I worried about my grandmother, almost 80, living alone. I turn to "aligot" the cheese-thickened mashed potatoes with roots in central France. Aligot doesn't fix anything, but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss, whatever form the abyss might take."

What Is Your Go-To Source of Comfort

Many people have "go to" items when comfort is needed. When I miss one of my children, I take one of their robes off the hook in the bathroom and wear it for a short time.

Sometimes when my heart aches for a heathy home that was not part of my past, I go to Conner Prairie and walk through the homesteads, watching the women sew and quilt or cook over a hearth with an open fire. I note stacks of potholders on the hearth or rows of clay jars made on the grounds lined in order in the pantry - they bring comfort to that part of my heart that still craves order. Even if I have to go to a fictional past, I find it helps.

Comfort - how do you find comfort in times of loss or challenging, disruptive or chaotic times?

     - a favorite mug filled with coffee or tea?
     - a passage of scripture that speaks to you and penetrates those chambers of your heart that ache?
      - pictures of people who are dear and remind you of good times?
      - music -or the soothing hum of white noise?
      -physical exercise?

I find comfort in all of the above and more. Nature, for example, moves me - we who watch the daily rhythms of nature's changes, find peace and comfort in predictable pattern. When I swim, the regular flow of my arms, legs and breathing cycle brings comfort for the the predictability, familiarity and long-time practice.

May you find comfort whether in familiar smells of your traditional food, through the soft murmur of white noise, in the familiar flavor and texture of whatever "aligot-type" food you like to prepare, in reading scripture, in music and movement. Finding comfort is important - we all need comfort.

For Your Reflection

1. What brings you comfort, food? an activity? a hobby? music? scripture? a favorite book? The possibilities are endless.

Prayer: God, your love and presence are our immediate comfort as we go through days that have bumps and unexpected turns. Increase our awareness of your proximity, for you can soothe our hearts and restore our balance in you and in ourselves. Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sit With Me

Shortly after the last supper in the upper room, Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). Right befor he left, he predicted Peter's betrayal and the disciple's desertion. He knew what was ahead and how he would suffer. His heart was heavy.

Jesus asked the disciples to "Sit here while I go over and pray," (Matthew 26:36) Jesus expressed a need for companionship and comfort from those who knew him well and who had walked beside him in ministry.

But what happened? The disciples fell asleep while Jesus expressed to his father, deep sorrow and anguish. (Matthew 26:37-39).  They were unable to "sit with" Jesus and be present to his needs even for a short time.

Sitting Shiva  - A Jewish Tradition

The Jewish faith observes a tradition called sitting shiva for seven days following a death. The family gathers at one location where family and friends can come, spend time and offer comfort and sympathy in the days following a loss.

When my husband's father died suddenly on Sunday December 20, 1983, word spread quickly among the two congregations he was serving. By mid-afternoon only a few hours after his mother called to inform us of his father's passing, our small parsonage living room was filled with people who came to sit with us.

We were still in shock. A steady stream of people came by well into the evening to let us know by their presence they were keeping us in prayer. They offered comfort and companionship, letting us talk as we began the process of grieving our beloved father, father-in-law and grandad. These people were sitting shiva, so to speak with us.

Sitting with Others

Almost a year ago, I "sat with" a friend and her extended family while her daughter, who is also my friend had surgery for a brain tumor. The chairs in the hospital waiting room were arranged in a circle. We didn't say much during the two hour surgery, mainly making small talk to break the tension and pass the time. But we didn't need to say much because God's presence was felt in those moments of anxiety and uncertainty as we sat in a circle of love.

Sitting with others, especially when few words are spoken, let's God's presence and love come through. When we sit with another, we make room in our hearts for him or her, just like God does for us. When we sit with someone, we demonstrate and model how God is present to us through giving our time, listening, offering reflection and prayer - precious gifts to those about whom we care.

Sitting with someone can also be a for a happy occasion. A few years ago, my friend, Ann, who lives in Vincennes, had a doctor's appointment in Indianapolis the day before my birthday. She decided to spend the night with a daughter who lived about a mile from me to help celebrate my birthday. I prepared lunch and Ann came over. She sat with me, as we shared what was happening in our lives. I still remember the joy of Ann's gift of time. I even drew a picture to honor our visit.

When I can express what I feel God is telling me or I draw a picture when I don't have the words to say, God comes and sits with me.

When I rest with a few verses of scripture and ask God to enter my study, God is sitting with me.

God Sits With Us

Psalm 139 verse 5 assures us of God's presence. "You are all around me in front and in back - and you have put your hand on me." Reflect on how God comes to you and you will identify how God sits with you.

I am sad Jesus did not have love and support from his close friends during his time of great need. We feel his disapppointment and frustration with the disciples who failed him, when he said in Matthew 26:40, "Peter, how is it that you were not able to keep watch with me for even an hour?" Knowing Jesus' feelings, can inspire us to be present to others in any circumstance or event.

Reflection Questions

1. Recall an occasion when someone "sat with" you ?  How did this companionship make you feel?

2. How have you "sat with" others for happy and sad occasions? Reflect on your experience.

Prayer: God, you are indeed all around us - in front and in back. You sit with us in many ways offering silent companionship we can hear in our hearts and feel in our souls. Deepen our faith and trust in you so that we can increase our awareness of how you "sit with" us. Guide us and direct our visition to those who may need us to "sit with" them. Amen.








Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Link

My late friend, Annabel Hartman, mentored me in many ways since I first met her in 1983. She and her late 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 cared for me as a devoted mother would a child. She prepared meals periodically during my pregnancy 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.

A Move and a Link

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes, June, 1989, I was sad to leave Annabel. We decided to keep in touch writing letters. Annabel, despite her work and involvement with church activities, 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, we still wrote letters.

In one letter, I shared my concern about "non-productive" activity such as driving children various places or participating in church events. 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 on 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.

A Recent Link

I was reminded again of being a link when I 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 doing 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 how to draw and paint. 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 inch. 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."

Links Today

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-four year influence on my life. I treasure the time I spent with her. Even until her death at 101, she was still filling me with wisdom and love.

Reflection Question

1. 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, reminds me how Jesus used objects to explain or link us to you. Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A God Thing - A Shift in Perspective

One day not too long ago, when I had 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, wanting 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 someone call  my name.

Noticing a person from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee of 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 see her. Since the flower department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid contact. In honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going just delayed.

So here she was at the Y, calling my name. We talked a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour and look at the water aerobic classes.

Meanwhile, I was getting restless, working 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 wanted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

Continuing My Day

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 was something new for her. Seeing a familiar face and receiving the encouragement I offered, 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. Seeing Elizabeth, is a reminder we can't see the whole picture and every once in a while God gives us a glimpse behind-the-scenes of how a few pieces fit together. Interruptions can be seen as gifts and opportunities.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Peter, Paul and Mary

A couple of years ago, I heard now-retired NPR broadcaster, 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, Peter, Paul and Mary, Fifty Years in Music and Life.

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 or hummed in the classroom. Their unique 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 Joel, his middle name, Paul. Mary died in 2009, but Peter and Paul continue 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."

The Upper Room

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 held. "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 comment, "I am not saying good-bye. My life will continue in resurrection and we will meet again."

Mary realized 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.

"To be continued ..."

Jesus wants us who believe in him and who partake of communion to remember, he, too, did not say good-bye, 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 with 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 offer to 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, May 12, 2019

"Call the Midwife"

"Nonnatus House, midwife speaking," is the friendly greeting people hear when they call the convent where nuns and midwives live in London's East End.

"Call the Midwife," the popular PBS  series originally set in the fifties, but now in the sixties, chronicles the adventures of nuns and midwives who visit expectant mothers providing London's poorest pregnant women with the best possible care.

I enjoy watching this show based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives at Nonnatus House. Each episode weaves back and forth between the drama of helping women give birth in their homes to watching the nuns chant in the chapel or pray in their rooms. Taking the love of God into dirty, one-room flats to help those in poverty, is the mission of patient and caring midwives, some of whom are nuns.

The Rhythm of Liturgy

When I watch this show, I am reminded of those days in my early twenties when I thought God was calling me to be a nun. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I learned early in my life the sustaining presence of liturgy. Each Sunday, the same words in prayers, responsive readings and psalms greeted me as I sat on a hard wooden pew for a service called "Morning Prayer." "Holy Communion" celebrated the first Sunday of the month, contained a different liturgy from "Morning Prayer," but was equally nurturing.

The repetitive nature of the liturgy during my formative years offered comfort and grounding each week because I came from a home that was chaotic and unpredictable. My attachment to God grew each week and I knew I could depend on God being present for me when people were not.

Craving a Convent

As I finished undergraduate school, my heart often yearned to live in a house surrounded by prayer and people who were loving and kind - my perception of what a convent was like.

I learned that the Episcopal Church did indeed have nuns and monks, so the path seemed clear - for awhile, anyway. When I completed graduate school, my search for a job began along with a pull toward service in God's name. However, I also had a desire to be a wife and mother. All of these conflicting thoughts churned my soul, leaving me confused and undecided for the future.

A Household of Peace

God intervened when I met a young man who eventually became my husband, and wanted to be a pastor. Life in God's kingdom took an unexpected turn. Marrying Mike opened a new dimension of love, service and eventually two, sweet girls.

Mike and I created a house filled with prayer, love and kindness. Although I joined the United Methodist Church when Mike began his ministry, my soul still sought weekly familiar liturgy in worship.  God's presence through liturgy carved deep paths that were sustaining and grounding when I was growing up and continued to be important now.

Now that Mike is retired, we are free to worship many places. Every Wednesday, Mike and I attend a thirty minute service of "Holy Communion" at a local Episcopal church. When I hear and say the words in the Book of Common Prayer for "Holy Communion" my soul is stirred to those days long ago sitting on a hard wooden pew.

Liturgy for My Days

For my birthday last year, I asked for the book, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  Each day I find a set of readings and prayers for reflection that wrap my soul in God. Some of the readings remind me of those when I was young listening to words that brought me to God. I slip these on like a person dons a favorite sweater or comfortable pair of shoes. They offer assurance even a sensation that I am home - home in liturgy that brought comfort and peace early in life and continues today.

Watching "Call the Midwife" for the six-week-long season connects me to those days when thinking about entering a convent seemed the direction my life would take. Even though I did not enter a convent, Mike and I created a home filled with prayer, love and focus on service to others - not unlike the daily practice of nuns who pray, love, and serve others.

The nuns in the series, along with my liturgy book, remind me to stay attentive to God, to practice my faith every day, and to spread God's love wherever I go - especially to the poor or those on the fringe.

Questions for Reflection

1. What moments, prayers, rituals or liturgy do you recall from your early memories of church?
2. Were they meaningful and formative to your faith?
3. How are they present in your faith practice today?

Prayer: God, you come to us in many ways. Sitting in church Sunday morning is a wonderful opportunity to hear your word in a sermon, prayers, readings and music. Even when we were young, your presence can open our souls to life with you. Guide us in our faith to move closer to you as we say the Lord's Prayer, participate in responsive readings and proclaim our faith in creeds. All of these bring our hearts to you. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Troubling The Water

Tracy K. Smith, last year's 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 'troubling the water' is a reference to a line in the gospel of John 5:1-7, testifying to divine healing. People are gathered around the pool at Bethseda.

She explains, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped 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 swimming 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, resentments and residue of trauma.

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 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.

For Your Reflection

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, April 28, 2019

What Do We Say When Good Things Happen?

A few years ago in mid-October, Mike and I were driving home from the Landmark Center near downtown Indianapolis, where Mike performed the wedding of a friend of Anna's from high school and college. Although we only knew the bride, we had a great time visiting with family members and guests at our table.

We were thankful to end the day with a happy occasion because we spent the morning visiting two separate families prior to funeral services for a beloved grandfather and young son.  Less than a week ago, we attended another funeral for a colleague of Mike's who died swiftly from a rapidly spreading form of cancer.

Mike and I discussed the events of the past eight days, mentioning the question that appears repeatedly when unfortunate circumstances come into the lives of people  - "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

Mike said, "Why don't we ask - 'Why am I blessed? Why do good things happen?' We have no better answer to when good things happen than we do when bad things happen."

His comment brought a shift in my perspective. When unfortunate and unexplained things come our way, we struggle and ask, "Why?" When we travel safely to work or to the store, when we share fun times with family and friends, when we have a healthy annual physical, when we read a book with an interesting plot that helps us relax, when we take a walk, when we have a day where everything goes smoothly, do we ask, "Why did good things happen today?"

Do we thank God for our good life or do we take for granted uneventful moments and roll them into the folds of our heart with nonchalance?

How do you respond when good things happen?

Prayer: God, our days can be a mixture of challenge and peace. Help us give thanks at all times knowing you are with us to celebrate and care. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Candle Hour

Every Sunday, I look forward to reading The New York Times. I am a native New Yorker and always find interesting features and perspectives each week.

In a recent issue of the magazine section (Letters of Recommendation) I read "Candle Hour" by Julia Scott. She explained that when she was a teenager, an ice storm came through Montreal, knocking down a giant tree limb in the front yard of her house. For seven days and nights, the power was out, forcing the family to use candles for their light source.

The author concluded that no one in the family remembers what they talked about or ate during that week, but they all remember the use of candles, enabling  them to read, eat and continue with daily life.

Now that she has settled in California, she started the practice of "candle hour." An hour before she goes to bed, she turns off all of her devices and lamps and lights a couple of candles, "enough to read a book or stare at the flame. I have a journal ready, but don't pressure myself to write in it. 'Candle Hour' doesn't even need to last a full hour. I sit until I feel an uncoupling from the chaos or until the candle burns all the way down or both."

She continues, "Candle Hour" has become a soul-level bulwark against so many kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day, but out of time itself. I shut aside outrages and anxieties."

My Thoughts

Always looking for new ways to connect to God, I decided to sit with a candle in silence for an hour. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still, so I planned my hour at the end of the day, 6-7 pm. I gathered some paper, a pen, a glass of water and a book I've been reading. I put away my cell phone, set the kitchen timer for an hour and began.

At first I focused on the candle flame, watching it move and sway even when the air seemed still. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling God's presence. My heart became filled with a deep peace. When I felt restless or my mind started to wander, I looked at the candle.

I worked on a poem I wrote the night before and reflected on a passage of scripture. The first time I looked at the clock, eight minutes remained in my hour. I was amazed I sat for so long. During the closing minutes God asked me a question, "To what are you holding on?" I  rested in this question and knew I would spend more time in the days ahead pondering the meaning. I concluded the hour by reading a few pages from a book.

Reflections on Candle Hour

I can understand why Julia Scott maintains an occasional practice of candle hour. I felt refreshed at the end of the day and experienced new energy for the evening. My soul was renewed as if I'd been on a weekend retreat. Clarity during the hour helped edit the poem I wrote. Receiving a question from God will direct my thoughts for deeper reflection.  I received so much benefit from candle hour. I am eager for another time in the days ahead.

Suggestions for Candle Hour

1. Set aside electronic devices.
2. Decide how much time you want to devote to the practice. If an hour seems too long, try thirty minutes. You know what works best. Set a timer.
3. Have something to drink close by as well as paper, pen, a book or needlework. You can also use this time to reflect on a passage of scripture.
4. Light the candle. God is here.
5. Take a deep breath.
6. Ask God to quiet your mind and open your heart.

Reflection Questions

1. How was your experience with "Candle Hour?" Were you able to let go and relax? How did God come to you?

2. Did you receive any new insights, perspectives or clarity as you sat?

3. Would you like to try "Candle Hour" again?

Prayer: God, when we light a candle we see a visible representation of your presence. We are also reminded that Jesus is the light of the world. Let us remember that as believers we carry the light of God wherever we go. Guide us as we sit with a candle to listen for your word or just rest in the peace of silence with you. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Questions for Holy Week

Lent is just about over.

Typically, during Lent, Christians are asked to look inward and spend time in self-examination. Here are a few questions for reflection as Holy Week begins. Perhaps, as you answer each one, you will come upon a new insight or perspective about yourself or God to carry you into the days after Easter.

1. Where or when do I encounter God's presence?
2. What name do I call God?
3. What does God call me?
4. God's word for me today is _____.
5. I need to forgive __________.
6. I am in awe of God's _____.
7. I sense that God wants me to ____________.
8. God is challenging me to __________.
9. An object that reminds me of God is _________.
10. How has God been present for me today?
11. The greatest joy of my life with God is _____________.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for Lent when we can set aside time in our lives to rest in your light. We are happy for Easter, when Jesus becomes eternal light to fill our hearts each day. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Letters - Annabel and a Former President

When my 101-year-old long-time friend, Annabel Hartman died in late December, 2016, she left me a stack of correspondence that spanned thirty-three years. Annabel valued the permanency of the written word in many ways.

For example, Annabel and her husband, Grover, kept a guest book on the coffee table in the living room. Before visitors left, they were invited to sign and date their time at the Hartman home. Even little children who could barely write were included.

Although exchanging letters began when our family moved from Indianapolis to a new church out of town in 1989, we continued to write each other, when Mike was assigned a church in central Indiana, in 1996.

 In the talk I gave at her memorial service, I recalled how even when we lived in the same town and the two of us could talk on the phone or visit, we still exchanged letters. Writing to each other was one of the foundations of our friendship, one that offered me an opportunity to preserve the wisdom, encouragement, and perceptions on life Annabel gave.

A President Who Liked Letters

Former president, Barack Obama, read and responded to letters from constituents as a regular practice. He read ten letters a day from the multitude of mail reaching the White House. Staffers carefully choose the letters Mr. Obama read and responded to each night after dinner.

Obama describes the value of letters in an interview from the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on January 22, 2017:

     "Constituents feel like you are hearing them, and that you are responding to them - that makes up for a lot of stuff! That kind of instilled in me the sense of - the power of mail.  And people knowing that if they took the time to write something that the person who represented them was actually paying attention."

The article continues:

     "The letters gave me permission to legitimately slow down, an opportunity for nuance and contradiction. I didn't understand how meaningful it would end up being to me."

     "By the time I got to the White House and somebody informed me that we were going to get 40,000 or-whatever-it-was pieces of mail a day, I was trying to figure out how do I in some way duplicate that experience I had during the campaign. And I think this was the idea that struck me as realistic. Reading ten letters a day - and reply, I could do that."

Barack Obama concluded:

     "I tell you, one of the things I'm proud of about having been in this office is that I don't feel like I've lost myself. I feel as if - even if my skin is thicker from you know, public criticism, and I'm wiser about the workings of government, I haven't become ... cynical, and I haven't become callused. And I would like to think that these letters have something to do with that."

Even a former president valued the communication he received from the American people, represented in the ten letters he read and answered each day.

Abiding Love

I miss Annabel so much and can't believe she is gone, even after living 101 years. I thought she would live forever.

At the memorial service, I showed those gathered my stack of letters bound by a tan string. "Here is a stack of letters I received from Annabel. They are pieces of her that I can access whenever I want a 'visit' or need 'to hear' her voice again."

A few days ago, I randomly chose a card to read, dated November 5, 2009. She signed the card, "Abiding love, Annabel."  Looking up the definition of abide, I found: to remain, continue, stay. Although Annabel isn't here anymore, her love for me abides always.

For Your Reflection

1. Is there someone to whom you would like to write a letter, perhaps offering encouragement, sharing thoughts or recounting what is happening in your life? Take some time to get a piece of paper, a pen and envelope and offer your recipient a treasure of communication.

2. Have you received letters in the past that have particular value? How do you cherish the person who wrote?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways we record our sentiments and thoughts on paper. This lost of art of communication has permanence allowing us to read and re-read what has been expressed. Allow us to make room and time to record our thoughts and offer pieces of ourselves that others can refer to forever. Amen.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week I received a phone call from a friend who used to live in Vincennes, Indiana, 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 letters dwindled when she moved to Florida. 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 had chosen two scriptures to guide her through the challenges of hospitalization and recovery.

"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.

My Prayer for Her Using Her Scripture

When I brought her name, Elizabeth, to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name:

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

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


Praying for Elizabeth using the scripture she chose helped me connect with her and God. I felt my prayers were more personal because I was using scripture that had meaning for her.

Next time someone asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask if there is scripture to which he/she feels close, and use those words in prayer.

Even though Elizabeth lives far away, I felt close to her heart and united in prayer for her procedure and recovery.


Prayer: Thank you, God, for your written word that becomes personal when we look at what we are experiencing and realize the connection we have to you. We are grateful to be able to pray for one another often using scripture. Your goodness and love abide in us always. Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Life is Hard - God is Good - The Beatitudes Reversed

Matthew 5:1-10 - Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

     "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

      Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

      Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

      Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

      Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus traveled to many towns and cities as his ministry evolved, preaching to those who came to hear him and healing many who were sick.

One day, Jesus decided to go up a mountain along with the disciples and teach them by offering a series of lessons, later known as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon described the whole spectrum of life in the kingdom, mentioning the poor and the meek, those who are mourning or hungry, those who are pure in heart or merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

Why Are Those Who Suffer Blessed?

I've always wondered why the word "blessed' was paired with each of these conditions. Why are those who are hungry and persecuted blessed? Why are those who mourn blessed? Usually I associate the word, "blessing" or "blessed" with a gift bestowed by God. Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction.

I spent some time studying the word "blessed" and reading about the interpretation and meaning of these passages. "Blessed" means divinely favored and receiving from God.

Those who are grieving, hungry and persecuted are blessed because they are not alone. God is with them. Being blessed means that when suffering happens, we can be open to receive God's presence, love, hope, strength and encouragement to help get through difficult days.

My Reflection

In my reflection with this passage, I focused on verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Loss was heavy on my mind and familiar to my heart. I carry loss from my past. I was also mindful for the 10 people I have know who died since August, 2017, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others were acquaintances.

I received a thank you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends, who died after an eight month battle with cancer. Anna and I made a donation to his place of employment. At the end of the note she said, "Life is hard, God is good."

She was stating a beatitude about mourning in reverse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Her comment could be reordered to say, "God is good, but life is hard," to reflect the language of the beatitude.

By saying, "God is good," she is opening herself to the vast experience of God's presence, mercy, love, compassion, and comfort in the midst of heartbreak and tremendous grief, that indeed, makes life hard.

God Is With Us

When difficult times come our way, being blessed may not be our first thought. However, knowing that "blessed" means that God is with us, we do not have to go through our days alone, for all that God offers is available. God welcomes us into his presence.

Questions for Reflection

1. What does blessed mean to you?

2. When you have experienced grief, hunger or persecution do you feel blessed?

3. How has God helped you through rough times with the assurance you are not alone, but blessed?

Prayer:  God, sometimes you speak in ways that seem confusing. When we explore your language we have new ways of understanding your nature and what life in you can offer. Keep us always anchored in you for all life brings our way. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What Makes Church A Holy Place

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

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

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

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

Differences in Church Buildings

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

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

Church Buildings as a Conversation

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

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

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

Churches I Have Known

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

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

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

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

Until I read the article in "Guideposts," I never thought about how construction of a church could influence the worship experience or draw people together, giving them space for their own private time with God. The two architects believe that churches "need to be free of the distractions of modern life." While I have loved the stained glass of Center Church and the brick dove descending at Fishers, I like the idea that a distraction-free worship space is a gift to the busy, modern person who craves a conversation with God.

Your Church

What makes you sense God's presence in your church or in churches you've visited? Where do your eyes focus when you enter the sanctuary? On the lights, organ pipes, woodwork, carpet, flowers, altar cloths, candles, stained-glass windows, pictures, the choir, the pastor, the organ? Do you find them a distraction, or do they invite you to conversation with God?

The Church I Attend

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

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

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you find the space where you worship a distraction-free zone? If not, what kind of conversation does it invite?

2. Where does your eye fall as you sit or stand in worship? How does your focus affect your time with God?

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Full Circle with the Body of Christ

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

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

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

"The body of Christ broken for you," I said, handing a small piece of bread to the person in my row.

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

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

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

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

Just a few months ago, Mike saw John at Starbucks. They caught up on what happened in John's life , including the death of his wife. As they talked, John apologized for his actions, and words spoken many years ago, offering Mike a sense of resolution of a difficult situation.

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

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

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

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone in your life with whom you've had conflict or disagreement?

2. Have you resolved or made an effort to talk about the difficulty and come to a place of reconciliation?

3. Ask God for clarity as you remember and consider a new way of being with the individual.

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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Kate Bowler - God Whose Name is Love

Last week, 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 three years ago.

I saved the spring, 2018, issue of the Duke Alumni magazine, because of  a feature and update on Kate, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. The article reported that Kate continues to be part of a small group of patients receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment which, fortunately, is working. She receives a CT scan every ninety days and if nothing has spread - if nothing looks worse - she gets another three month reprieve.

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

She added, "My own post-diagnosis world has brought me into a different relationship with God." In the midst of heartbreak, she is 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 for 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 we be.

Carrying this song in my heart over sixty-five 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 Jesus preach and teach.

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

Showing Love Unexpectedly

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

A few Sundays ago, 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 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 right 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 to 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, February 24, 2019

Everything Happens For A Reason - The Prosperity Gospel


I received a text late Sunday morning, February 4, 2018, from our youngest daughter, Anna, that Philip, her friend of ten years, had died eight months after being diagnosed with stage four colon and liver cancer.

 Initially, she debated whether to come for the memorial service. (Anna lives in Oregon.) Mike and I left the decision to her; after much thought she decided to attend.

Anna Arrives Home and the Visitation

Picking her up at the airport Thursday evening, the day before the visitation, gave our family unexpected time to be together. Friday afternoon, Anna and I drove to the small farming community where Philip was raised, arriving at the church an hour after the visitation began.

Anna was anxious and the intensity of experiencing the loss of a long-time friend was palpable. I offered encouragement as we walked through the gravel parking lot to the church, reminding her that she possessed great courage to come and offer comfort to Philip's mother and father.

Although we had to wait over an hour, that time enabled me to observe how Philip's parents greeted each person with gracious hospitality, listening carefully to the condolences offered. Our time came to talk to the family. I finally met Philip's mother and father about whom I heard so much. Anna was embraced with love and warmth. She spoke kind and consoling words despite her sadness.

The Memorial Service

The memorial service was Saturday morning, where several persons - family, friends, work associates, and a former teacher - spoke about a man who loved adventure and enjoyed fullness of living during his 35 years.

The Luncheon and Kate Bowler

At the luncheon following the service, I sat next to Philip's high school art teacher. She was one of the speakers and shared samples of his art as well as the impact he had on her life. As we were talking, she said, "Well, you know everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out why."

I looked at her and hoped she didn't share these thoughts with Philip's mother and father. I remembered a book I just read, Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved, written by Kate Bowler, an assistant professor at the Duke University Divinity School.

Kate also completed extensive research on the prosperity gospel for her graduate studies, and published Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  The essence of the prosperity gospel is the "quintessentially American belief that God rewards the right kind of faith and that if you are suffering you must have done something wrong." (Faith and Leadership, Duke University - "Kate Bowler - Not All Pain Has to Be Explained," February 6, 2018).

Kate Bowler continued, "When someone gets sick or unfortunate circumstances arrive like a job loss,  impaired relationships, and illness, etc., the reason is because the person has done something wrong. Misfortune is seen as a mark of God's disapproval while fortune is a blessing from God - the core beliefs of the prosperity gospel."

My Response

In those moments of fresh grief and remembrance, I was not going to express my opinion to this woman who a few minutes earlier explained she was spiritual, but not religious - words I've heard before and believe they mean something different to everyone who speaks them.

Thirty-five-year-old Kate Bowler wrote Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved,"  after she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She says, "My body was failing me. Pain rippled through my limp arms. I was no longer proof of anything that testified to the glory of God, at least not in the eyes of the people around me. I was nothing like a sign or wonder." (page 19)

When asked in a TIME magazine interview (February 5, 2018) if she felt Christianity had failed her, she answered, "Sometimes it felt like that, in part because of the stuff people said using the Christian faith to be incredible trite. Christianity, also saved the day. You really want a brave faith, one that says, in the midst of crushing brokenness, there is the something else there, the undeniable, overwhelming love of God."

I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I feel people say these words because the thought offers "understanding," they don't know what else to say in tragic circumstances, and in a strange way it brings comfort to them and the suffering family.

I can't think of a reason for a previously, healthy, productive, joy-filled young man to get cancer or for a child to be raised in a home that is harmful or for a baby to be born with birth defects or for a child to have learning difficulties, for a shooter to kill students in Florida and Connecticut - or any other tragedies and challenges life brings. There is no reason. There may be causes for such happenings, but not reasons.

I can rest with the situations I described above for weeks and never come up with a reason why - as the teacher thought. Things just happen and there is no length of time to determine when an answer will come, because there is none. There are causes for tragedies, but not reasons - cancer cells start to grow in a healthy body; emotionally disturbed parents try to raise children; chromosomes aren't divided properly to produce healthy children; unstable persons use guns inappropriately.

God's Assurance

The prosperity gospel is inaccurate and leads people away from God, who promises over and over to be with us when our hearts are crushed and we are broken from varying circumstances.

For example, these three passages describe God's presence:

Deuteronomy 31:8 - "The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid."

Matthew 28:20 - "And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."

John 14:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Individuals can grow through unfortunate events and find deeper meaning in life. Those who know God can find the value of intimacy with God's companionship, compassion and mercy.

Driving to the Airport

After the luncheon, Anna and I drove three hours to reach the airport so she could board an early evening flight to Oregon. She was so tired, she leaned back in the passenger seat and rested.

When we reached the airport, I pulled next to the curb so I could have a few minutes to offer last minute encouragement. I told her to be gentle with herself, to let her memories come through, write about them, cry and take good care. I reminded her of the great courage she demonstrated by traveling so far to be present to Philip's parents, bringing comfort, expressing compassion and showing care.

Releasing my hands from around her shoulders was so hard. I wanted to continue to walk beside her as she processed the experiences of the past few days as well as deal with her grief. However,  depended on God, who offers companionship and mercy in all circumstances to those who call upon him to care for Anna and Philip's family in the days ahead.

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you experienced the loss of a close friend or family member?
2. What were your emotions?
3. How did you respond to the circumstances surrounding the loss?
4. In what ways do you help others who are  dealing with a death or other trying circumstances?
5. What advice can you offer to those dealing with difficulties based on your own experience?

Prayer: Loving and caring God, so many times tragedy and trying circumstances come our way. You are the first to cry when these events happen and the first to be available to console and comfort. Thank  you for your care that settles in our soul when we are distressed or when we celebrate. We are thankful we can always depend on you and you are always there for us. Amen.