Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Come Thou Almighty King" - All Saints Day, November 1

In Catholic and some Protestant churches, November 1 is celebrated as "All Saints Day" to remember and honor not only saints of old, but also those in a congregation who have died since the previous November 1.

Although I attended church most Sundays growing up, my home did not reflect Christian values. Fortunately, I attended public school where I met Mrs. Rossi, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. DeShong, my fifth grade teacher, and Miss Lightner, my sixth grade teacher.

This Sunday, when "All Saints Day" will be celebrated, I want to remember these three women who nurtured my faith in ways they were unaware. They died decades ago, but their influence on my life remains.

Back in the mid and late fifties, when I was in elementary school, all classes began by saying the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer. Mrs. Rossi, my fourth grade teacher, liked to sing. Filled with a room of chatty children, she stood in front of the classroom leading us in hymns while we passed completed papers or spelling tests down the row of desks. "Come Thou Almighty King" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were my two favorites. Perhaps she thought singing children were less distracting than talking children.

My family moved from Columbus, Ohio, to a small town west of Pittsburgh, when I was in fifth grade. Mrs. DeShong, my fifth grade teacher, and Miss Lightner, my sixth grade teacher, led the class in prayer before we went to lunch. Simone, a student in my class both years was Jewish. Once a week, she was asked to say the prayer. She prayed in Hebrew then translated in English. Simone was the first Jewish person I knew.

All three teachers helped me learn that thinking about God was not just for Sunday morning in church. Mrs. DeShong and Miss Lightner taught me about gratitude and honoring other faith traditions. Through Mrs. Rossi's love of music, I learned hymns that were not sung in my church. Each teacher provided daily links to God through prayer and music, which reminded me I was able to come to God wherever I was - even at my desk in school.

I wish I could thank these women or even their descendants for the influence each had on my life. Recent efforts to locate teacher records in each school were not productive. When I attend church on Sunday, I will honor "my three saints" by recalling their witness and realizing the impact each had, caring for me in my faith every day in ways I was not receiving at home.

Who can you honor on "All Saints Day" for influencing, directing or nurturing your walk with God?

Prayer: God, thank you for persons who witness to their faith in you and can inspire by example. Amen.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Do We Say When Good Things Happen?

Saturday night, October 18, Mike and I were driving home from the Landmark Center near downtown Indianapolis, where Mike performed the wedding ceremony for 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 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 rapid 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 in 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 perspective. When unfortunate and unexplained happenings 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 an 'uneventful' annual physical, when we read a book with an interesting plot that helps us relax, when we take a walk that is refreshing, 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.

Friday, October 24, 2014

An Uninterrupted Prayer Life ... Maybe

Mike walks every morning. He often picks up trash or coins he finds on the sidewalk or in the road. He tosses the trash in our container and fills an envelope with the coins to fund mission projects at church.

Sunday, October 19, Mike came home with a soaking wet prayer book filled with leaves, evergreen needles and mud.

An embroidered green cloth with side pockets on the inside covered the prayer book. A purple ribbon marked the place where the person was reading: Saturday, October 18.

Handling the book with reverence, I explored the items tucked between the pages hoping to find a name and phone number of the person who owned the book.

Inside I found two laminated prayer cards, a prayer to St. Michael, and two small pieces of tablet paper from "Princess Cruises". The person had written errands to places such as the driver's license bureau, the courthouse, Costco, Wal-Mart, JoAnn Fabric, Calico Corner. Each store's address was written after the name, so I wondered if she was new to the area. A pink and green crochet cross with a pink ribbon down the middle was in the back pocket.

"Give Us This Day - daily prayer for Today's Catholic, October 2014", was the book held by the beautiful cover.

Soaking the cloth cover and crochet cross in soapy warm water removed the dirt and grit. I set the book in a warm corner of the laundry room so the pages could dry.

Handling all of these pieces of someone else's prayer life made me want to find the owner. I wonder if the person put the book on the roof of her car and drove off perhaps in a hurry to get to church, forgetting to retrieve what was on top. Since Mike found the book early Sunday morning, I wondered if the owner was going to Saturday evening Mass.

Holding the crochet cross reminded me of a nearly identical one a dear friend made me, which I keep in my Bible and treasure.

What should I do with these holy tools of someone's prayer life? Was her prayer life interrupted because she lost her prayer book, prayer cards and crochet cross? I am sure she paused and felt disappointed when cherished pieces leading her to God were lost.

The prayer book is only for the month of October. I committed to pray for this person until the end of the month, using the prayers given for each day. Perhaps I can be a link between her and God using her materials.

My house is equidistant between two Catholic churches. Within the next week, I plan to take everything Mike found to each church hoping the owner called the office to report missing items.

All the contents reflect someone whose walk with God was meaningful and who came to God each day following the guide for prayer and scripture reading written for each day.

Although I hold her in prayer as her treasures rest on my desk, I feel certain her walk with God has remained solid. Perhaps she even purchased a new book cover, and a copy of "Give Us This Day" for November. Maybe she asked the person who crocheted the cross to make another one. Her faith and trust in God are aided by what Mike found and I cleaned, but not dependent on these items.

The person I'm holding in prayer knows God, God knows her. And as I glance at the cross and pray today's prayer, feel a if I know her a little bit too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Matter of Perspective

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

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

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

Elizabeth like to talk, often complaining about working conditions. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop I was in a hurry. Since the floral department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid seeing her. Honestly, I was never late anywhere I was going, just delayed.

Here she was at the Y parking lot calling my name. We talked for a few minutes. She asked about the Y, and I suggested she take a tour and perhaps take a water aerobic class.

Meanwhile, I was getting restless, wondering if I would be 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

God's Selfie is Jesus ... And Us

Sunday afternoon I left the Apple Store at Conner Prairie - one of my favorite seasonal stores carrying fall treats like jams, jellies and locally grown apples - loaded my bag of apples in the car and noticed an attractive young couple walking across the parking lot, laughing and holding hands. The man pulled his phone from a back pocket. The two put their heads together with big grins, while he snapped again and again.

Sitting in my car watching the moment of delight, I remembered the days when someone had to be left out of a picture to capture a group. Cell phones now allow everyone to be included in a picture and preserve many moments which in the past would be incomplete.

People find great pleasure taking selfies, often posting on Facebook. Selfies enable us to capture what is happening in the moment in one click and share with others a few seconds later.

What would God do with a cell phone camera?

We know we live and move in God's presence and we are God's people created in God's image. We reflect God's love in our hearts through words and actions. If God took a selfie, would all who believe and follow God's teachings be included?

I believe Jesus is God's first selfie. After all, Colossians 1:15 says, "The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." Jesus, God's son, came to earth modeling a life of love and teaching how to live in all circumstances.

There were no cell phones during the time Jesus lived, but if Jesus had one, do you think he would take selfies with the people he healed, with the little boy who brought bread and fish, with the wedding couple in front of the barrels he changed from water to wine?

Jesus' instagram could have multiple daily postings as he traveled through towns and villages doing God's work always bringing glory to God.

Thinking how selfies might have provided Jesus with an instant evangelistic tool and an 'up to the minute' recording of his work is amusing to consider, but not really reflective of Jesus' character.

Twice Jesus reminded people he healed not to tell anyone about their interaction. He was emphatic after he healed two blind men. "Jesus spoke sternly to them. 'Don't tell this to anyone.'" (Matthew 9:27-29). When he healed a man with a skin disorder, Jesus said to him, "Listen! Don't tell anyone." (Matthew 8:1-4).

I often see selfies on Facebook of teenagers and adults who are in places of service or on mission trips. These photos are posted to bring glory to God and honor the energy and vision Christ provides to care for those in need.

Eating a crisp, juicy apple as I drove away from the Apple Store, I realized Jesus would not feel comfortable making a selfie, but he might receive pleasure as he notes the way believers in the twenty-first century record and publicize the many ways God is at work in the kingdom.

What selfie can you take that brings love to others and models God's first selfie, Jesus?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

When Bad Things Happen to Good People - God is There

Two women - one a friend, the other a woman I don't know, but stay updated on her condition through a closed blog - were perfectly healthy three months ago. Now, both of them are in hospice at home. Another sweet friend, lost twins at almost twenty-four weeks. Each day she deals with their loss as well as with infertility.

My neighbors will soon recognize the one year anniversary of the sudden death of their sister and mother. I grew up in a home that not only lacked nurturing and love, but actually caused scarring pain. I compare my lifelong aftereffects to wearing a coat lined with tacks and nails, and a few patches that only occasionally rests on a hanger.

These people - myself included - would be considered "good people" who've had extraordinary circumstances interrupt their lives, some compromising their ability to function fully in life with family and friends.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book in 1981, "When Bad Things Happen To Good People", after his son died two days after his fourteenth birthday from progeria, a disease that causes rapid aging. Rabbi Kushner said he wrote the book for himself "out of his own needs". He discusses God and misconceptions people often have about God when illness or other life injustices happen.

Almost thirty years ago, a close friend died in an accident at a state park. As she was placed in the ambulance, an EMT said to her husband, "This must be God's will for you and her." Her husband, a pastor, replied, "If her fall and death is God's will, then God's will stinks." A few days later at her funeral, through his tears explaining details of the accident, he said, "I believe God was the first one to cry when Brenda fell."

I too believe God cries when our bodies develop serious illness, when children aren't treated with love, when babies die, when employment is severed, when a spouse commits infidelity, when a child is born with special needs, when relationships among families or friends are impaired, when countries can't seem to live in peace. We could point to examples of injustice on every page of the paper and throughout our churches and neighborhoods.

Whatever circumstance is happening in life, though, God can come in. And when God comes in, the person can find a source of companionship in the midst of trouble, loss, injustice, pain.

Recently I was speaking with my spiritual director, a woman I admire for her wisdom and depth of rest in God. I explained how I felt like I was always "clinging to God, holding so tightly to God" as pieces from my past  keep surfacing each day, sometimes with little space to catch my breath.

I told her I desired a more relaxed way of being with God, perhaps just resting in the fullness of God's presence. Her response? She imagined God holding hands with Adam and Eve walking through the Garden of Eden.

"Maybe you can think about God walking with you sometimes hand in hand for those tough moments and other times just walking side-by-side in conversation or silence."

Reflecting on her comments, I gained the phrase "verbing with God", in other words, I can imagine God's companionship in whatever I am doing. When I walk or swim, God is with me. When I bake I light a candle to serve as a tangible, visual way to celebrate God with me.

When I have the assurance of God's companionship I can request strength, hope, courage, patience, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness with confidence that God hears my prayers and will respond. Whatever happens along my path, God is with me, sometimes holding my hand tightly, always walking beside me.

Unfortunately, bad things happened to those who are "good", to those who seemingly live in ways that reflect kindness and love.  Life is not fair. Bad things happened to "bad" people as well as "good"
people. The joy for those whom we call "good" as well as "bad" is that God does not see with eyes that label or judge. God is available to all in any challenge.

Prayer: God sometimes things happen to us that are not fair, that make us angry, sad and disappointed. As we sit at the bottom in despair bring a space of clarity and vision so we can reach to you the source of all we need. Come in to those circumstances which give us challenge so we can rest in you, sometimes holding your hand other times feeling you walking beside, for you are all we need. Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I Didn't Have Time to Pray - Or Maybe I Was Being God's Language

Tuesday morning I overslept. I didn't have time for my morning routine. Usually I read the Bible, pray for myself and others, and sit in God's presence watching the sun rise and noting the changes in the trees behind our house from the day before. Tuesday I rushed out the door.

Before I did, thinking I might have a few moments during the day to "catch up" on those spiritually enriching activities, I stuffed my Bible, prayer cards and the little book I'm reading into my favorite bag - placing all of my "tools for a devout life" in the back of my car - as if I could recreate my morning moments with God by osmosis through the car seat.

Stopping by the Y for a quick swim gave me the opportunity to hug the two foreign female custodians. Although their English comprehension is limited, daily hugs let them know I honor them and appreciate the care they give the locker room.

Next, was my last session of physical therapy for uneven hips. Waiting my turn, I saw a lady who used to attend the church Mike pastored. She had a pained expression on her face, uncharacteristic from when I knew her in the past. She explained she was on disability due to physical difficulties with her back and neck. I remembered her energy and vitality, now turned to despair and pain as reflected in her eyes and body posture. I heard regret and longing in her voice as we talked. When my name was called, I stood and gave her a hug adding her to my prayer list.

My physical therapists have been patient and encouraging the past four weeks. Practicing the exercises they gave me helped level my hips and eliminate the pain that had accompanied me for several months. At the end of the session, I gave each one a note of gratitude for their care.

Changing clothes, I walked quickly to the other side of the building from the physical therapy office to volunteer at the IU Saxony Hospital. Each week I walk all over the hospital listening to the joys and concerns of the staff and family members and friends of patients.

After that, I traveled to a church in Castleton for a meeting. On the way I glanced at the back in the back of my car.

"Still no time to pray," I thought, stopping at the bank to make a deposit for Sarah.

Inside the church I helped an interior designer move a chair from one end of the church to another where a new office is being constructed. Blessing the chair for the person who will use it for ministry allowed me to be present to the new life the chair will bring in God's service to many.

Returning home to eat dinner, I left to teach an evening class on prayer at St. Luke's United Methodist Church. Seeing my bag in the back seat where I put it earlier in the day, I shook my head and thought, "Still haven't prayed today. Oh my."

After class, I drove home thinking about a short note of condolence I wanted to write to one of Anna's friends whose grandmother died. Wanting the card to go out in the mail the next day, I went to my desk, where I expressed my thoughts and decorated the paper with two pieces of embroidery.

Noticing my Bible and prayer cards were not on my desk, I ran downstairs to the garage, sighed, grabbed the handles of the bag containing "my tools for a devout life", and carried it inside, regretting my lack of discipline to wake up early enough to pray.

Then I remembered two quotes. The first is from the preface of Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". He mentions a nineteenth century rabbi, Menachem Mendel of Rymanov who once said, "Human beings are God's language." The second quote is one of my favorites from Mother Theresa, "We are pencils in God's hand."

Although I did not get up early to complete my usual time of reflection, I pray my life and every one of my responses was God's language; I hope that I was a pencil in God's hand.

I trusted in that grace, nevertheless, I set my alarm clock to wake me earlier tomorrow morning.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kick the Can - Kick the Acorn - Center in God

To play the children's game, "Kick the Can," a tin can is placed in the middle of a yard, cul de sac or
playing field. Teams hide and the person who is "it", tries to find the others. When someone is found and names the hider, both run to the can. If the person who is "it" gets to the can first, the hider is in jail. If the hider gets there first, he or she kicks the can and finds a new place to hid. The place of the can is re-established and the person who is "it" goes looking for those hiding again.

Several years ago I felt like I played a version of "Kick the Can" when I was preparing to confront my brother, with examples of betrayal from the past. I was the one coming out of hiding, speaking the truth.

The Sunday prior to meeting my brother I took a walk around the neighborhood. On that mid-September afternoon the sun was bright, the cloudless sky deep blue. My favorite red sweater gave me a layer of confidence as I thought about the meeting three days later. Although I prepared for the encounter several weeks, as time approached I felt my anxiety increase.

Setting of on streets familiar to my feet from many years of walking, I noted homes whose owners had changed three or four times. Living in a start-up community makes for rapid turnover.

Reaching the back of winding streets, I noticed a row of oak trees that lined the street almost to the curb. Acorns were scattered on the street so I kicked one. Watching its lopsided roll a few feet in front of me, I kicked it again where it stopped. I began a rhythm of kicking the acorn, watching it move, and kicking it again as my path moved around a bend in the road and back onto the straight way.

With each kick I noticed a stirring in my heart so I kept kicking realizing I was being drawn into God's presence. My walk was transforming into a time of prayer, my heart filling with God's love with every kick.

Reaching home I realized I kicked the acorn almost two miles. What further astonished me was how a simple act brought me to God greatly reducing the anxiety which held me when I started. Lifting the acorn from the ground, I put it in my pocket.

On that September day, kicking the acorn on a two-mile walk created space for communion with Go. I needed God's presence to ground me and strengthen me for the confrontation scheduled later in the week. Carrying the acorn in my pant's pocket the day I entered the room where my brother sat, helped me speak with boldness and courage. My words were not easy to say, but my voice was heard and God was with me.

The acorn rests in one of my desk drawers as a reminder how a simple act, like taking a walk and kicking an acorn - my adult version of kick the can - brought me to God. The acorn also reminds me of God's presence and strength for some of the most difficult things we ever have to do.

Prayer: God you continually amaze me the ways you come to me in simple acts and every day encounters. Your presence fills me generously and with abundance. I am so grateful. Amen.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Knee High In Leaves

The fall of Sarah's second year we lived in a small town in southern Indiana (population 7,000). The closest city of any size  and with any shopping to speak of was twenty miles away. Since we only had one car, our daily routine consisted of a morning walk, an afternoon trip to the park or library, a visit to a few elderly neighbors, and a few minutes of reading books on the parsonage swing before bedtime.

I cherish the days Sarah and I went walking through leaves. One October day, I dressed her in a long sleeved white cotton shirt and a tan corduroy jumpsuit. I made most of her clothes including this outfit. She liked reindeer at the time and I appliqued a deer to the bib. She liked pointing to the deer on her little suit saying, "deer mommy, deer".

On that cool, sunny, morning, we wore jackets and I placed a little hat on Sarah's head. It covered her medium brown chin length hair that I pulled to the side with a ribbon or barrette. We began our walk on the sidewalk  that outlined the front of the parsonage and the church. There were no leaves on our path as the custodian was care to keep the walk clear.

When we crossed the street, however, we discovered blocks and blocks of sidewalks covered with layers of leaves.

"Look at all the leaves, Sarah," I said. "I see red, yellow, brown and green leaves."

"Leaves, yellow, green, brown and red," she echoed.

We held hands watching dead, dried leaves that fell from old, old trees  almost like rain. I noted the leaves came to Sarah's knees as we continued. Sometimes she "marched" when the leaves were so deep she had to lift her legs to keep moving forward. I realized in those moments I was witnessing a time that would pass like a blink of an eye, so I absorbed the sound of every leaf she crunched and each word she spoke to describe our time together.

"There will be many fall seasons as Sarah grows," I thought. "However, her two-year-old October is the only one when the leaves will be ' knee high'".