Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why Am I Being Punished? - Zachariah

Definition: To punish - 'to make (someone) suffer for a crime or for bad behavior

Scripture: Luke 1: 5-38

When the angel told Zechariah about Elizabeth's pregnancy and described the characteristics of his son, Zechariah replied, "How shall I know this is so? I am an old man and my wife is old also?"

The angel interpreted Zechariah's question as disbelief and punished him by removing his ability to speak until his son, John, was born.

A few verses later, the angel tells Mary, "God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus." Mary, too, replies with a question, "I am a virgin. How can this be?"

Mary, however, is not punished as the angel offers additional details about Jesus' conception in the verses that follow.

What is Zechariah punished and Mary is not?

Zechariah was known as a good person, who obeyed fully all the laws and commands. He was a priest completing tasks in the temple with love and devotion.

Perhaps Zechariah needed an extended period of time to reflect on God's goodness as he and Elizabeth awaited the birth of their son. During these days of silence, God moved in and through Zechariah's heart so after John's birth, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he spoke with deep insight about the nature of his son's life and the coming of Jesus.

Are we ever silenced by God? When life's circumstances are overwhelming we are often "left without speech" as we attempt to understand and restore order and equilibrium. We may spend more time with God, praying or reading the Bible, "silencing ourselves" to outside distractions and activities. Just like Zechariah, we too can come to a place where we can again praise God and sing about God's goodness.

Prayer: God, when you come to us, help our unbelief. When we question your direction or guidance, "silence" our minds so our hearts can open through spending time with you. Deepen our understanding and open acceptance for unexpected messages from you. Amen.

Friday, November 28, 2014

God Working Through My Life With Words

Resting on the short, shaggy carpet in my office, is a green folder bulging with copies of every blog post. Looking at the pile, I see resurrection.

When I was growing up, my parents often described their participation in the high
school band. Both played the clarinet, but my father also played the saxophone.

 My brother and I were expected to play an instrument. I chose the piano, but since there was no money or space in our tiny home, I had to play my father's old saxophone. My parents were delighted I was carrying on the 'family tradition' of playing in the band as I began in sixth grade and continued through high school.

What I really wanted to do was write. Beginning in the fourth grade, I started writing poems, and in the sixth grade wrote a book called "Adopted Beth," a pseudo-memoir reflecting the desire of my heart. One day, I came home from school and couldn't find my book which I kept under my pillow, the only hiding place where I thought could safely guard my private thoughts about life.

My mother must have found the book and, thrown it out, as I never saw it again. She probably had difficulty accepting and understanding the turmoil I expressed and her confiscation shut down any further writing.

Although I wrote to complete class assignments in high school and college, occasionally my soul was stirred to record my thoughts in poetry or verse. Later, I didn't have a lot of time to pursue writing because I worked full time when I was single and then was busy with Mike and my sweet children.

However, God reached my writing heart. I wrote for a clergy spouse magazine called SPICE, no longer in print. The Indianapolis Star called for volunteers for the religion section which featured a few of my thoughts.

Last December, I decided to devote this year to exploring my writing, which always brought delight to my soul, made my heart sing, and offered a way to pray. Searching for a writing coach, I found the perfect teacher, an accomplished writer and editor whose two books I read years ago and used when I was the MOPS mentor and in my Sunday school class, both at Fishers United Methodist Church.

Ann Kroeker has worked with me weekly all year and has given exceptional professional counsel and Christian companionship to lead me, and help me explore a path waiting in the depths of my soul to retrieve and develop.

My early writing with Ann plowed through decades of strands that clouded my words and bound my hands. Getting through this work over many months eventually led to light - light placed within me at my creation, surfaced when I was young, but when that book disappeared it sealed tight like the lid on a jar of jam.

The lid opened by the discovery that my non-dominant left-hand could write and draw - another moment of resurrection. My mother told me she covered my left hand when I used it to grasp and reach items when I was a toddler, because in the late 1940's being left handed was considered a detriment.

Swimming in words and putting words together all handwritten by my left hand on notebook paper, I seem to tap into rich places, reaching through to the writing self God created. With Ann's help and God's companionship, I'm stitching my scattered self back together from shattered desires and loosely explored talents to see a pile from God resting on my floor and growing each day.

What areas in your life have you experienced resurrection? What talents or abilities have you wanted to explore, but not taken time to do so?

Prayer: God, you shower us with blessings each day, heaping your love in generous ways. Show us new parts of ourselves which may have been only partially examined. Give us courage to seek those who may help us develop skills which you have created. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lessons from Mother Teresa for All Who Follow Jesus

Almost twenty years ago, a local news reporter, Anne Ryder, went to Calcutta, India, to interview Mother Teresa. When Anne returned, she wrote an article for Indianapolis Women Magazine (no longer published) where she listed the top ten lessons she learned from Mother Teresa.

In 2008-2008, I was the mentor for the MOPS chapter at Fishers United Methodist Church. I looked forward to the twice monthly meetings. One of my responsibilities was to prepare a reflection on a topic relevant to mothers and children.

After reading Anne's article, I wrote my own adaptation of Mother Teresa's lessons focused on those who have young children

Anne's words are in bold print - mine are in italics.

10. Expect Miracles.

 Miracles come everyday! Be alert for them - when a child accomplishes a skill like riding a bike or solving math problems,  when you have a few minutes during a busy day to read or pray - when everyone likes a new dish served for dinner , when a flower blooms, when you hear God's voice and respond - these are miracles!

9. You must be spiritually empty to be filled.

 Keep an empty bowl on the kitchen table as a reminder that emptiness in body, mind and spirit leaves room for God to come in.

8. Get out of your comfort zone. Mother Teresa says it is the only way to let your heart be touched.

Recall experiences which have caused you to grow. Were these during "ordinary times" or moments when you've felt stretched?

7. Use your hands, not just your eyes and money.

 It's easy to write a check, but more effective to serve a meal or take pledges for a charity walk or cause. Participate in the Angel Tree project at Christmas or fill a box for a needy child through Samaritan's Purse. You might have your own interests where you devote your time and talents.

6. It is not how much you do that matters, but how much love with which you do it.

 Any task completed with love, however seemingly insignificant reflects God.

5. Keep it simple. We make our lives more complicated than they need to be.

 Simplicity opens the pathway to God. What can you live without? How can you reduce complicated schedules to allow more family time such as dinner together?

4. Matthew 25:35-40 - (Jesus is teaching.) "I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me. The righteous will then answer him, 'When Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? Jesus replied, ' I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it to me!'" These words of Jesus are the guiding philosophy of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity.

Treat everyone as if he/she was Jesus. We are created in God's image, and called to respond to the needs of those in our homes and around us.

3.The rich can be poorer than the poor.

What did Jesus say about possessions? What items did Jesus carry? Can you trust God to provide everything you need

2. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Treat everyone with an open, loving heart.

1. Find the silence of your heart and pray. Mother Teresa began praying at 4 a.m. She talked and listened to God, but always starts by finding the silence of her heart, which is where God talks to her.

Although finding time to pray with young children or a job outside the home, there are many ways to carve small increments of time to be still before God. Quiet your mind by taking a few deep breaths. Prayers can be a single word or asking God to enter your heart.

I was fortunate to hear Anne speak about her trip to India and the impact of spending time with Mother Teresa had on her life. Although Mother Teresa is no longer living, she left a legacy of compassionate love and service to emulate at any stage in life.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for Mother Teresa's life and for the lessons Anne learned from her trip.  Guide us to expect miracles, fill us with your love, give us strength to get out of our comfort zones, direct our hands to serve, let us spread love wherever we go, help us keep our lives simple, and love all whom we encounter, and create space so we can find the silence of our hearts to connect to you. Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Two little girls at Target

Wandering the aisles at Target always leads to a cart filled with many food, household and clothing items. Checking out last week in a long line offered a slice of life I wish had not happened.

I noticed two little girls sitting on a bench in front of the check out line two rows ahead. These sweet children were seated side by side, chatting non-stop. I wondered if they were sisters or cousins or best friends. The youngest was bald, making me wonder if she was a cancer patient. She was adorably clad in a purple top, jeans, and black Chuck Taylors swinging vigorously under the bench.

Another child, who looked about five or six, also captured my attention. She and her mother were in the line closest to the bench. This little girl kept pointing to the bald child, pulling her mother's arm, saying loud enough for me to hear two lanes over, "Look at that little girl. She has no hair!"

She repeated the sentence several times, always pointing to the child.. Her mother was busy, paying for her merchandise, collecting all the plastic bags, oblivious to her daughter's remarks. .

I noticed the little bald child's face change from happy, smiling, engaged in conversation to silent wrenching. With every remark and emphatic gesture, her face twisted revealing the canvas of her heart.

Eventually the mother finished, pushing the bulging cart by the bench ignoring the pain of human life resting on a bench in a busy store.

I wondered if the trip to Target was a break from cancer treatment or  a way to get "a breath of fresh air" for the sick child. She surely carried more emotional pain out of the store than when she entered. Perhaps she was used to stares, comments and pointed fingers as part of the path a cancer patient walks.

Feeling compassion for both children, I prayed, "Lord, in your mercy care for both of these little girls, the one who is sick and the one who pointed. Amen."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My First Experience Receiving Gratitude

I saw John and his mother walk to the side of the swimming pool where the lessons began. He clung to her with both hands, he was crying softly, and he looked down.

I was 16 years old teaching swimming lessons at a neighborhood pool. The first session, which lasted a week, my fellow teacher and I were assigned a group of five, four-year-old children.

The other children gathered, sitting on the edge of the pool kicking their legs, eager to jump in and swim. John stood behind the group, gripping his mother's hand, wanting no part of swim lessons.

Realizing this little boy needed individual attention, I said to my colleague, "Let me take John. The other children are ready to get in the water."

His intense fear of the water stirred compassion and sadness in me and a desire to help. John clung to his mother most of the first day. Nothing I did or said, convinced him to release his bond. Finally, I reached both of my hands to this frightened four-year-old and with great courage he reached for one of my hands, then the other, still standing close to his mother, but inching closer to the side of the pool.

By the end of the first class, John stepped tentatively, - always holding my hand - to the edge of the pool where he sat dangling his legs. A small triumph compared with the other children already bobbing their heads and dipping under water.

Tuesday morning we began again sitting on the edge of the pool, playing with the water and talking. By Wednesday, John slipped into the waist-high water, and with increasing confidence jumped and played, copying the activity of the other children. Toward the end of class, he bent over and put his face in the water. I clapped! His mother, watching from the side clapped, and John emerged from the water with a huge smile on his face.

Thursday John jumped in the pool, put his face under water and joined the class, as they learned to float and kick. John had caught up with the other children. He was using a kickboard as he propelled himself across the pool. He kept his head under water, and smiled as he bobbed up and down.

Friday, with all of the children together, we taught them arm movements for the front crawl. They stood in the water practicing and before the session ended there were five new swimmers in Columbus, Ohio.

When John's mother came to pick him up on Friday, she carried an aluminum pan covered with foil.

"Thank you so much," she said, smiling, handing me the pan.

Lifting the foil, I saw a stack of brownies. My mother never made these delicious treats. I'd heard about them, but never tasted one.

"Oh thank you so much. I'm proud of John!" I replied, equally pleased with her son's progress.

This mother taught me I could receive someone's concerns and then serve as an agent of change in a little boy's life. The plate of homemade brownies, a tangible expression of a mother's gratitude for my
work with her child was an unexpected surprise. The impact of her kindness remains with me fifty years later.

How do you express gratitude to others? How do others express gratitude to you?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Poems for Friday

(Recently I wrote three poems, all ending with the words, "All is well." The context for each poem is described below.)

Poem One - (Written while listening to a local author speak to a group of young mothers. The subject of the poem is the music stand holding her talk.)

A stand holds
Things that are light,
But heavy in meaning.
Doubly anchored on
Each side
Connecting top to bottom.
All is well.

Poem Two - (I was working in the reading room of the Carmel library, looking at the burgundy wall.)

Bright burgundy wall
Covering marks
Or patches;
Beauty over wounding
All is well.

Poem Three - (Written after enjoying a visit with a friend over a beautiful teapot and matching cups she received as a wedding present from one of her bridesmaids.

A flowered china teapot
Seeped blueberry delight
Poured in cups
With a ladybug waiting inside.
A yellow butterfly
Attached to the pot's handle.
Friends chat.
All is well.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Love Takes Time

Middle-aged Jane and her younger brother, Sam, come just about every Thursday night to eat dinner at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. They live together in government housing.

Jane looks like Cleopatra with long, straight back hair, and bangs that cover half her forehead. She wears a ring on each finger and at least one, sometimes two, silver necklaces. When I compliment Jane on her choice of jewelry, she smiles.

Her stocky built is usually wrapped in black slacks and a brightly patterned black top with swirls of color including orange, yellow or green.

Each week I sit with Sam and Jane. We talk about the weather, sports, what they did since last Thursday or something that broke the monotony of their daily routine. Sam is friendly and eager to talk. Jane is much more hesitant, tentative and guarded, not too open to conversation. I learned they have a tradition when they receive their welfare checks on the first of each month. They pay their bills, then eat breakfast at McDonald's and dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

Over the weeks, I learned Jane's daughter died suddenly last year and she is estranged from her two sons. Their parents are not living.

"Jane, I missed you last week," I said Thursday when I saw her and Sam enter the dining room. "How are you today?"

"I just got a call forty minutes ago from my niece that my sister died."

"Oh, no. Is that sister the one you talk to everyday?"

"Yes, that's the one. We sometimes talk three times a day."

"I am so sorry. I you pray for you and your family as you make arrangements for the funeral."

"Thank you," she said looking at the floor.

When Sam and Jane finished dinner I wanted to give both of them a hug. I walked to their table, approached each one slowly, but Jane pulled back and Sam walked away. My heart hugged them out as they faced days of grief.

The following week when Sam and Jane came for dinner, I wanted to hear about the funeral and learn how they were doing.

"My sister couldn't read or write," Jane said. "We talked three times a day. I really miss her."

"I am sorry. Here is a card for you and Sam, and another card just for you to read after your surgery on Monday. You are in my prayers, Jane."

She extended her chubby, ring covered hand, which I grasped firmly. She gave me a part of herself with a simple gesture of gratitude from trust gained over time and crumbs.

Celtic spirituality uses a term "thin places" to describe moments with persons or in places touched by a deep awareness of God's presence. I realized when Jane extended her hand, I was in a "thin place" where God had touched Jane's heart with strength to reach out and receive love I waited long to offer.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Mike and I have traveled several places this year including Denver, Portland, Oregon, and Erie, Pennsylvania. We’ve either stayed in a Hampton Inn or Comfort Suites. We find these two motels offer nice accommodations as well as the bonus of a free breakfast.

What caught my eye at both motels, other than the huge comfortable pillows on each bed, were the tablets resting on the tables straddled between the telephone and Gideon Bible. The words on the bottom of the tablet from the Hampton Inn were “thought pad”. Comfort Suites had these words in a large circle at the top left hand corner “more space for your thoughts”.

The words on both of these tablets suggest that time spent in the room away from the normal routine, might offer an opportunity to think about topics or decisions or whatever might come to mind. Whenever I see these words I wander to a reflective place.
Perhaps the owners of these businesses want to encourage customers to take a few moments while they are gone to think about concerns, challenges or even joys that we carry wherever we go and often ignore, but might surface when we go away from the normal routine and have space to devote to reflection.

Jesus reminded his followers to “go away” and “take time to pray” (Matthew 14:22-24). Jesus found a hill, a garden, and the wilderness to contemplate, spend time with God, and perhaps sort through the path his life was taking or prepare for future encounters and experiences. I wonder if Jesus had a tablet with “thought pad” or “more space for your thoughts” tucked under his robe to record what he received and wanted to remember.

My guess is that Jesus knew clearly the focus of his life. His heart guided him to love and serve others, teaching and healing in God’s name. His clarity in purpose was like no one else experiences and there was no need to record the strength, courage and insight God was giving him.

Packing the two tablets in my suitcase from each stay, reminded me to allow space for new thoughts, insights and perspectives about life and people which always happens when I visit new places. Getting out of my everyday routine, traveling someplace different can at times overload me with thoughts to write about when I return home. The tablets from the Hampton Inn and Comfort Suites sit on my kitchen counter as helpful souvenirs to encourage reflection about my time away and life with God.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Designed to Work - Surrounded by God's Presence

My work as a speech pathologist in a large Catholic hospital began when I got out of bed and went to my desk. Reading the Bible, and praying for my patients grounded me for work in a place where every day was different. Anyone who works in a medical setting is well aware of how the condition of the human body can change in a second.

The thirty-minute drive I completed in silence lengthened my preparation, as I connected with God and examined myself, asking for insight and wisdom as I evaluated patients who could range from infants weighing less than to pounds to adults requiring geriatric care.

Parking on the side of the hospital, I crossed the street to the hospital entrance.

"Hi Sunshine!" I heard from a landscaper, one of my former stroke patients.

"I'm glad to see you back at work.!" I replied, "How are you doing?"

"Just fine, Sunshine. Have a good day!"

I grinned and waved then passed the sculpture of three large interlocking doves on the front of the hospital, witnessing to the hospital's priority to treat mind, body, and spirit.

Walking down the hall shortly before 8:00 a.m., my gait slowed as I stopped to hear a reflection piped over the loudspeaker - a reminder God was with me. I continued on when they finished.

Unless I had to attend a department staff meeting, I always tried to sit in on one of the hospital services at 8:00 a.m. or noon.

The handles of the heavy chapel door were shaped like crosses. I'd take hold of one and heave the door open, passing a basin of holy water on the right wall. Sitting in the back, I appreciated the opportunity to rest in God as priests on the hospital staff led worship. Leaving the chapel I reached into the basin of holy water splashing my hands, asking God to bless my work.

With my stack of patient folders locked under my arm and other tools of my profession tucked in the deep pockets of my white lab coat, I began my rounds, filled with a sense of God's presence in order to serve God's people.

Usually I saw eight to ten patients each day, writing in charts, supervising student interns and giving an occasional lecture to medical students formed my day.

Reaching the floor, I began to assess patients with all types of neurological impairments and swallowing difficulty. Their suffering was reflected in a tangible way with the presence of crucifixes - one in each room and every fifty feet down the halls. While I performed my professional responsibilities, I prayed the visible Christ would become real to those in my care. Although I could not pray with my patients, I could pray for them.

"Are you awake?" I asked a middle-aged heart transplant patient having trouble swallowing, gently touching his shoulder.

"Oh yes, I'm just resting my eyes. They don't let you sleep here. Someone's always poking at me, asking questions. I need to get home and rest," he chuckled.

I began my assessment with this gentleman given a second chance at life. "Tell me about your swallowing. Do you have more difficulty with solids or liquids?"

While I was working with him, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jesus hanging on a cross, as if watching my work. And though that sculpted figure was not watching, Jesus Himself was fully aware of all that happened in these walls - one family suffering loss and another celebrating new life, and this man struggling to swallow solids.

God was with me as I worked to bring some healing to this man, and as I hoped and prayed he would recognize God was with him, as well - body, mind and spirit.