Sunday, April 26, 2015

Recording Prayers for Others

Many years ago I attended a program given by a group of women at the church I attended. Part of the evening involved making a small, 4" x 4", booklet to record the names of persons for whom we prayed. We decorated the front of the construction paper book with flower stickers, protecting the cover by a layer of contact paper.

Finally having a means to organize my prayer life, I could discard the small pieces of paper where I wrote joys and concerns for those about whom I cared.

On the first few pages, I wrote the names of family and friends, praying for them daily, as well as myself. Leaving a space between each name allowed me to add  thoughts about each one. Further into the book I added people whose needs or celebrations arose over time or whose circumstances were short-term. World events and leaders also found a spot on the pages.

Having a little book to keep close to my Bible greatly assisted the consistency of my prayer life, gave me a diary or record, and showed ways that God entered a person's life.

Although long ago I "outgrew" the little green book I made in 1981, I've always used paper and pencil to record prayer.

When Sarah and Anna left home, I wanted to record daily needs and joys they shared with me while they attended college and eventually secured jobs. Keeping a log of their prayer requests helped me stay connected with what was happening in their lives.

The beginning of each new year was a meaningful time for me to chronicle my prayers for these dear children. Using an index card for each daughter, I wrote the year and their initials on the first line, and began the series of dates and recorded entries on the left.

Most of the time, I wrote a few words each day based on what they shared with me during a phone conversation or text. Occasionally during the year, I ask them how they want me to pray.

When they return home following their Christmas visit to Indiana, I compile all of the index cards, which by the end of the year can number ten or eleven. I write a letter affirming who they are as young women making a difference in the world professionally, proclaiming my love for them, and offering encouragement in the new year. I fold the letter around the cards, enclose five dollars for coffee, their favorite treat, and mail in early January.

Caring for people through prayer helps me feel connected to them in times of joy and during moments when life is difficult. Recording how I pray for people keeps my prayer life organized and reminds me of a group of dear church ladies who decades ago guided me.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Kingdom of God is like ....... Meijer, Color, Comfort

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

"I like your umbrella," a voice said behind me. "The color is comforting.
I turned around and saw an elderly woman, the Meijer greeter, wearing a bright red vest. She looked tired and steadied herself against the pole corralling all of the shopping carts.

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

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

Elizabeth Myer Boulton, a pastor and wife of the president of Christian Theological Seminary, wrote the following called "Ode to Yellow":

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

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

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

Today, every time I see the color yellow, I will lift up a prayer of healing, of comfort, of protection, of thanksgiving for a God who teaches us how to pray."

Perhaps the Meijer greeter was praying through teal or maybe in the moment I walked into the store, she was sad or lonely or dealing with a circumstance where her heart was hurting.

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Favorite Books

On my sixth birthday, my father brought home a gift from one of his co-workers whom I never met or even knew by name. The gift, the first book I ever received was called Now We Are Six by the British author A. A. Milne. Captivated by this collection of poems with unusual words and rhymes, I discovered the joy of owning a book that I could read whenever I wanted.

Reading was not a priority in my home. I never saw my parents read a book. My mother read the newspaper each day, but considered reading for pleasure a waste of time. My father spent his free time building projects out of wood or tackling a steady stream of home repairs.

As a result of the lack of interest in reading in my home, I didn't go to the public library until I was thirteen. Only then, when I checked out the six books maximum, did I begin to discover worlds and adventures beyond the walls where I lived.

Checking out books ensured a return trip to the library in two weeks, when I got to choose six more. The cycle continued throughout the summer, ending when school began. For some reason, the summer I was thirteen was the only period of time I went regularly to the library.

Since I didn't receive an allowance, I had to wait until I was in high school to start babysitting to earn money. The hourly rate for teenage childcare in 1965 and 1966 was fifty cents. I didn't babysit regularly so saving enough to purchase a few books took several months. Finally, I went to the bookstore and bought three paperback titles.

The Diary of Anne Frank (35 cents), A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (The price was worn through age.) by Betty Smith and To Kill A Mockingbird (60 cents) by Harper Lee were my first purchases. I still treasure these books that rest on my bookcase not only for their literary value, but also for the way I identified with the main character.

Each book involved a young girl in circumstances that were less than ideal, just like I was experiencing. Anne Frank began writing her diary when she was thirteen, chronicling her thoughts while she and her family hid from the Nazis.

Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird) lived in a motherless home with her father and brother. Scout, who ages from six to nine in the book, noted events living in the South with her lawyer father, who defended an African American man.

Francie Nolan's father was an alcoholic (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn). She describes the nature of her home life living in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn with her parents and brother.

Reading these books over and over and identifying with these resilient girls, offered strength and encouragement as I, too, lived in a chaotic, dysfunctional home. Escaping to the worlds each girl inhabited provided companionship and friendship as close as the small desk where I stacked the books.

Last year I re-read the Diary of Anne Frank and marveled at the wisdom she possessed and the depths of her soul. Reading Anne's words fifty years later brought renewed inspiration. These three books remain a cherished part of my life like long-time friends or a doting family member.

What was the first book you received? What was the first book you purchased?

Prayer: God, thank you for the ways you provide community through words and stories that are secular, but come from the hands of writers whose skills you have created and blessed. You work in many ways to reach those who celebrate and suffer. Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Extravagant Compassion

Jesus modeled compassion as he traveled through towns and villages caring intentionally for those others regarded as less than or as we might say today "on the fringe." He healed the woman who was unclean from years of hemorrhaging, the man possessed by demons, and the man sitting by the pool at Bethsaida. He ate with tax collectors, fed a crowd of people with a myriad of needs, reached out to lepers and healed those handicapped.

What does compassion mean? defines compassion as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."

Recently I was thinking of my early experiences with compassion and wrote the following definition based on those moments:  compassion is an awakening of tender places in the heart where love for others is birthed.

Although I did not grow up in a home where compassion was demonstrated, God was able to penetrate through the darkness in my life and awaken my heart to others. Here are two stories that occurred when I was seven and eight years old where I felt compassion stir my heart.

Two little girls, Kathy and Judy, were our next door neighbors. Kathy, the oldest, had learning and speech delays. She was my age, but her functioning was more appropriate for a three-year-old. I quickly learned the patterns of her speech and language. Sounds were distorted and sentences were incomplete. Kathy and Judy joined my brother and me as we played in the sandbox next to our house. We made bridges, roads, pancakes and smoothed the sand over and over with our hands. Kathy usually sat on one of the sandbox corner benches playing with her doll, observing.

One day she kept saying, "Capy on. Capy on."

None of us understood what she was saying until I watched her and realized she was trying to put a cap on her doll's head. During the years we lived next door to Judy and Kathy we shared many similar moments. I felt my heart expanding with compassion for the child who was my age twin, but many years younger developmentally.

One of the fellow students in my fourth grade class was Ruth Loop. Ruth was tall and slender with straight black hair, bangs and an olive complexion. Ruth stood out because her left arm ended at the elbow. No one knew if her handicap was the result of an accident or a birth defect. Ruth always had a sad expression on her face. I never saw her smile.

Ruth didn't let her short arm keep her from participating in playground activities like hopscotch and jump rope. Although Ruth couldn't hold two ropes for double-dutch, we girls let her jump anyway. Playground compassion was evident in the way everyone treated Ruth, wanting her to be included in all activities.

Recalling these stories of compassion reminds me of God's power to work in all circumstances. We are told nothing can separate us from God's love. Even an unloving home could not prevent God from entering my heart and stirring compassion that has followed me through decades.

How do you define compassion?

What are your earliest memories of compassion in your life?

Prayer: Every day, God, you bring us men, women and children who are "on the fringe", of life in some way. Guide our hearts with extravagant compassion as you modeled to respond to their needs with acceptance and love, reflecting the compassionate heart of Jesus. Amen.