Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Can't Force The Heart - Or Can You?

Sue Monk Kidd wrote an article in the November/December 1990 issue of Weavings (A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life) in which she described an experience when she was 12 visiting a nursing home with her church youth group. Sue 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.

She spoke with 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 her 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.'"

Many years later I had a similar experience. When I was employed as a speech pathologist at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, I worked two weekends a quarter. Sunday I kept my pager on and only went in if there was an emergency. Saturday, however, involved a regular eight-hour day.

One particular Saturday, I was tired, wanted to stay home and dreaded going in. When I reached the hospital, checked on the stack of patient folders left from Friday, I 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 had betrayed my heart? Was it something in my facial expression or demeanor? Even though the patient had experienced a stroke, he was able to perceive and express what I was trying to hide.

When I walked out of his room forty-five minutes later, I remembered Sue Monk Kidd's article. I couldn't force my heart. The compassion I wanted to convey to this patient as well as the other patients that day was empty and gone. I was dishonest with God, with myself, and especially with a patient I wanted to help.

Walking up and down the hospital halls as I saw 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.

Driving home, I realized I needed to be honest with God before I left for work 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 day is attainable with God's help.

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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday - Thoughts and Ideas for Lent

Lent refers to the forty days before Easter beginning today, Ash Wednesday. Lent can be a time of self-examination and reflection. Growing up in a small Episcopal church, I was taught to "give up" something different each week. The children in the congregation chose what everyone in the church was to sacrifice, which most of the time was either ice cream or television. Sundays during Lent were regarded as "Little Easters" when one could indulge in the treat or pleasure "given up" for the week.

Denying oneself of a pleasure, like chocolate or computer time can offer space for a new discipline. However the question to consider is, "What will I do with the time I've created during Lent?"

Can I spend more time in prayer? Am I cultivating an increased awareness of God's presence? What am I doing when I would have eaten chocolate or played computer games or worked on an annoying habit? Ask yourself, "How will giving up _______ deepen my faith and trust in God?"

Instead of giving something up, another thought for Lent involves taking on something new. For example, last year I decided to volunteer in a local soup kitchen every week. Making a short-term commitment to serve in God's kingdom can be positive and manageable. I found my Thursday evenings spent at "Dinners on Us" a rewarding experience. I looked forward to visiting with those who came each week.

If you are considering "taking on" rather than "giving up" during Lent, here are a few ideas.

1. Choose a word on which to focus. The word may relate to a need in your life, a discipline you want to develop or a perspective you want to receive. For example, well-known author Debbie Macomber has written a book, "One Perfect Word" (2012), which describes her experiences choosing a different word of the year for many decades. "Light" was my word during 2013. I was amazed how God brought "light' to me in various ways through pictures, images, words and scripture. Reflecting on scripture references for "light" brought new meaning to these passages.

2. Take on a volunteer project in which you've always had an interest. I enjoyed my time at the soup kitchen so much, I continued to volunteer though June.

3. Complete an examen every day or once a week to consider the ways God is at work in your life.
Questions such as the following assist:
a. When did I feel close to God (today, this week)?
b. When did I feel God's absence?
c. When did I experience God at work within me?
d. What are my gifts? How can I use my gifts to serve others?
e. What place does silence have in my life?
f. Where do I find a sense of community?
g. Are there topics I need to address such as forgiveness, reconciliation, places of anger and awareness of gratitude? Is God a part of this process?
h. What are my greatest joys?

4. Find a piece of art to which you are attracted. Locate scripture related to the piece as a way to deepen your reflection. Ask God to enter the time you spend opening your heart and awareness to new perspectives and insights. For example, in 2013, I copied a picture of Michelangelo's Pieta. Focusing on different parts of the sculpture:  Mary's hand placement, Jesus' posture, the draping of clothing Mary wore, the youthful depiction of Mary's face even though she was a much older woman at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, brought many inspiring thoughts.

5. Take a walk. Open your heart to receive what God brings as you step a holy path.

6. Each morning breathe in the fruits of the spirit. (Galations 5:22-23)

Lent can be a somber time when there is self-examination and invitation for change. However, remember each Sunday is a "little Easter" when celebration can occur for new experiences with God and God's people. Before you decide what to "give up" or "take on," ask God for clarity and understanding to respond generously to the guidance God will offer.

Prayer: God, we come with humbleness, to walk a path you've designed for us during these forty days. Sink us deeply into you, reach our hearts in new ways so we can walk beside you along the path to the cross in a few weeks. Amen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

When Is God Good ----------All The Time!

Watching the dramatic finish of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers football game a few weeks ago was exciting. I was hoping the underdog Packers would hold on to the lead and win. However, they lost in sudden death overtime. In the chaos that follows such a dramatic finish, a news reporter interviewed one of the Seattle players who kept saying with tears running down his cheeks,
"God is so good. God is so good."

Watching this scene, I wondered if the player would say the same words if Seattle lost?

Waiting for a meeting last Tuesday at IU North Hospital where I volunteer each week, I read a quote from an old TIME magazine (July 7, 2012) from the golfer, Will Sampson. Will won the U. S. Open in 2012, against 50-1 odds, beating players like Tiger Woods. He was quoted, "I probably prayed more the last three holes than I ever did in my life."

I am curious how God appears when loss happens. On Sunday, the same day Seattle and Green Bay played, I didn't hear any Indianapolis Colts, the losing team against the Patriots, make any comment about God's goodness in the midst of defeat.

A few Sundays ago, Mike and I returned to the church from which he retired, Fishers UMC. I appreciated Pastor Kevin McKinney's words about prayer. He commented that when we pray for specific things, we are often met with disappointment when God doesn't answer the way we desire. Allowing, inviting, desiring and asking God to "work in me/ourselves, to do something in me, allows God to become transformative."

Many years ago, I decided to stop praying for specific outcomes when others ask me to pray for them or when I pray for myself. Instead, I faithfully pray, "God I bring you _____. Give him/her what he/she needs."

God knows our needs. Joining God's desire for a friend or family member can make our companionship with God and with those we love, more in line with God.

Prayer: God, when success comes our way we are prone to say how good you are instead of offering gratitude. When we struggle and desire a particular outcome, we can be disappointed when things do not turn out our way. Strengthen us to ask you to "work in us" so that we can be transformed no matter what is happening in our lives. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sitting With God

Last year when I took our eleven-year-old cat Lucy to the vet for a check-up, he said, "She's now considered a senior cat, requiring visits every six months instead of annually.

I replied, "She's a senior cat living with two seniors."

He chuckled.

Lucy follows me wherever I go. When I sit to pray in the morning, Lucy is on my lap. When I check my email or write on the computer a calico fur ball nestles in the middle of my crossed legs.

Lucy doesn't sit with me the whole time I write or pray - just for the amount of time she deems necessary to receive comfort and love our attachment provides. Then she walks to the small box next to my desk curls into every corner to take a nap.

The ebb and flow of Lucy's posture on my lap reminds me of the fluid nature of our walk with God.

"We go away" as Jesus commands and models, "being still with God" before returning to everyday life. We find the rhythm of seeking God, settling and sitting in God's presence, inhaling what God brings to our hearts, then taking with us the fullness of our rest in God into our daily encounters and experiences.

At times, we feel the need to curl in Jesus' lap when our needs are so great, we need deep intimacy with God to find comfort. God receives us and welcomes by saying,

"Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Other times we sit next to God, discussing a concern, sharing a joy or absorbing the presence of one who provides all.

Last summer, Mike and I made our annual visit to the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. We're always excited to return to a community where we experience renewal and refreshment by spending time with others, hearing concerts, participating in worship, and walking by the lake.

I decided to rent a kayak for an hour, a first time experience. I donned a life jacket, positioned myself in the middle, and pushed away from the dock. Paddling parallel to the shore, I gained a new perspective on the lake I'd visited many years. I noted the curves and indentations the water carved into the dirt along the shore like a sculptor would etch at a piece of marble for an extended period.

Tossed by waves generated by motorboats pulling skiers or just cruising along kept me alert navigating my paddles so I wouldn't tip over. Eventually, I came to a calm place in the lake where I could sit, surrounded by water, realizing the meditative place I'd reached by passing through rough waters and a challenging shoreline.

Sitting in a kayak in the middle of a huge lake made me remember Lucy, curled in my lap, resting long enough for whatever she needed. Here I was "curled in God's lap in a kayak," resting on waters where I felt God's presence. I, sat, many minutes.

I only rented the kayak for an hour since it was my first time and I was unsure what to do. This summer when we return, I will request two hours. I'll take my camera, a pencil and paper so I can record any poems or thoughts that might surface.

Prayer: God, inspire and guide us to ways to develop a rhythm or pattern or coming to you and settling in your presence, receiving what you want to give us, allowing time for your gifts to settle deeply within our hears, so we can return alive in the fullness of life with others and with you. Amen.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Words of the Week - "Get Over" and "Integrate"

Get Over - to do something as soon as possible so you don't have to worry about it anymore

Integrate - unite, bring together into a whole

Recently I was describing to a friend an experience that left me reeling.

"I just want to get over this and move on," I said exasperated and desperate..

She suggested I approach the experience by integrating what happened into the mix of events already part of my life.

Reflecting on her words, I realized integrating unpleasant experiences can offer much more positive energy and results than staying in a potentially "rut developing" stance of saying repeatedly, "I just can't get over this."

Getting over implies doing something else as soon as possible to distract and avoid reasons to worry. My experience trying to "get over" what happened has involved seeking distractions that momentarily interrupt my thoughts. Before long, I return to what occurred, which requires me to distract myself and begin the cycle again. At this rate, I am stuck, not "getting over" anything. Instead, I am likely to return in thought and behavior to the same struggles and frustrations.

Integrating, however, helps me explore different parameters of what happened. Integrating can lead me to discover the root of what affected me and better understand why. Identifying the root -----

a. Invites me to learn more about myself.
b. Gives me an opportunity for growth.
c. Helps apply lessons learned to future experiences.
d. Encourages me to walk a path of forgiveness leading to freedom and openness to absorb more of life.
e. Develops patience and perseverance as I plough through anger, resentment and betrayal that come from being wounded.

Getting over an event without integration can be a dead-end road. Although integration can be a difficult process, it offers greater learning and permanent self-discovery.

Prayer: God, when life is hard we want to toss our experiences to the wind and avoid the deep work of becoming more whole and complete in self and you. Give us strength and courage to do work that can drain our energy, but lead to new-life. Amen.