Sunday, May 31, 2015

Do things really happen for a reason?

Recently I swam at the Jordan YMCA on the north side of Indianapolis. I prefer the warmer temperatures in the pool compared to the Fishers Y where I usually swim. Whenever I am close to the Jordan Y, I pop in and enjoy my usual workout.

That day, when I entered the pool, the lap lanes were already full, so I tapped a lady on the head and asked if I could share the lane. There is etiquette for lap swimmers - asking to share rather than just jumping in is one of them. She removed her goggles and paused by the edge of the pool.

"Sure you can share. I'll take the left side." she said.

"I'll take the right," I replied.

"I had hip replacement surgery two months ago. A nerve in my leg was scratched, now my foot is numb. I should have been back at work in two weeks, but I can't do anything. The doctors can't figure out what went wrong. I guess everything happens for a reason," she sighed looking down at the water.

Pondering her words, I replied quickly, "I don't think we can say, 'things happen for a reason'. Things just happen. I believe we can learn and grow from what happens to us, but I don't think we need to spend time exploring why - especially in circumstances like yours where even doctors have no explanation."

Sitting on the edge of the pool, I donned my cap, goggles and hand paddles, preparing to swim.

"You are showing up to swim and exercise - that is helping your recovery. Sometimes things just happen and we don't know why!" I hoped my words would offer encouragement down her path of rehabilitation that has lasted way too long.


What would happen if I said to my friend who was recently diagnosed with liver and gall bladder cancer --- "Well, you know, these things happen for a reason."

Or to my friend who husband died suddenly from an aortic dissection and left her a widow with two pre-school children -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."

Or to my former neighbor whose daughter was born full-term with a heart defect detected after birth, requiring surgery at three weeks -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."

Or to my friend who desperately wants to be a mother after losing four babies to miscarriage -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."

Or to my neighbor who went through a difficult divorce after twenty-four years of marriage, disrupting and destroying a family until that previously worked harmoniously -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."

Or to my friend who deals with the remnants of growing up in an abusive home -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."

What type of comfort would these words --"You know, these things happen for a reason" bring? What do all of these persons need, who are in the middle of heartbreak and confusion, who are struggling to stand upright as they deal with unexpected or ongoing events that disrupt their daily routine and wrench our hearts?


Emily McDowell has created a new line of cards to express support to others in difficult circumstances. Based on her experiences with stage three Hodgkin's lymphoma, diagnosed when she was twenty-four, empathy cards emerged. I heard Emily interviewed on National Public Radio and also read about her cards in the Huffington Post.

One card beautifully decorated with bright red flowers and teal leaves says:

     Please let me be, the first person to punch
     The next person who tells you
     Everything happens for a reason -
     I am sorry you're going through this.

Emily's honest, sensitive, and realistic messages speak to the core of how in our uncomfortableness we try to be present to those who suffer.


Searching for a reason when unfortunate, sad and life-changing circumstances come our way is natural. We want to know 'why'. Even when we can identify a reason that might pinpoint a cause, the underlying question, "Why did this happen or occur?" may never be known.

Trying to discover 'the reason' something happens can bring frustration and anger. Adding these emotions to limitations, grief, sadness, anxiety and despair that often come with unforeseen events adds another layer of struggle and suffering.


Another approach might be, "Do we spend time looking for the reason for what happened or do we look for ways to secure strength to persevere through days that disrupt our normal routine and make us feel terrible?"

Shortly before I pushed away from the pool, I added to my initial remarks, "We can learn and grow from whatever comes our way without finding a reason."

My lane partner, who paused to adjust her cap and goggles looked at me and said, "That's a possibility I'll explore."

If we can identify a reason, does that make things bearable or offer security when our foundations are shattered?

After asking, "What is the reason for ______?" and no answer comes, consider these words, "What can I learn and how can I grow from _____?"

Invite God into your time of inquiry and desire. Ask God open your heart and reveal ways to grow and learn from what you are facing. Bring your emotions to God. God is eager to accept, welcome and hold all you are. As you explore ways to grow spiritually, emotionally and physically from events that happen, God may reveal areas of strength as you persevere through hard places, opening talents and abilities you have not discovered.


A few years ago when I was going through a rough patch, I read an activity in a self-help book that suggested writing a letter to yourself using your non-dominant hand. Although I write with my right hand, my mother mentioned that when I used my left hand as a toddler, she covered my hand with hers, forcing me to use my right hand.

As an adult, trying out this letter to myself, I started gingerly, with a pencil in my left hand, writing numbers, then the alphabet, then simple words and sentences.  Working with my left hand for several weeks, I eventually discovered my left hand draws and writes. I believe I was created to be left-handed because of the ease with which these tasks came.

My handwriting is different with each hand. When I write blog posts I use paper, pencil to record my thoughts ....with my left hand. Although I struggled to get through what I was experiencing, discovering the insight and freedom that flows from my left hand, brought joy and companionship that is still with me today.

The lady who shared her lane with me finished before I did, leaving me with the luxury of swimming in my own lane. Through the cloudy view of my goggles, I watched her struggle to climb the stairs out of the pool. As she walked haltingly to the door leading to the locker room, I hope her heart felt my heartfelt prayers for her recovery and peace.

Prayer: God, things happen. That's the nature of life. We have the assurance that you are in all things, not causing them, but present in them. As we seek to pick ourselves up and keep going, let us also come to you, knowing you have encouragement and companionship to help us grow through our circumstances in your embrace and love. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Delight - a high degree of pleasure, joy, enjoyment; something that gives great pleasure

In the late 1970s and early '80s, Mike served two churches in a small town in rural Indiana. Our parsonage was one block away from the railroad tracks. Sarah, our only child at the time, knew the familiar whistle and clack of trains that passed by our house frequently during the day.

Whether she was playing in her room or helping me in the kitchen of our shotgun house, when she heard the trains, she stopped  what she was doing, ran to the front door, and greeted the passing train with a grin, a chorus of clapped hands and a few jumps. Blue train cars, that carried liquid gas, were her favorites. She turned in circles and giggled when they went by.

Most children live in delight as they explore their world. For a child, everything they see is brand new. Interacting with the simplest object or toy can bring a twinkle to their eyes, a smile to their face, a laugh or hands coming together to clap!

Delight eludes some children when love is not reflected in the mother and father, when a child has a serious illness or witnesses  trauma among family members. Delight can be thwarted in these instances, as children need to focus on survival, or getting strength restored, or developing strategies to face their life circumstances.

In these cases, can a person find delight during adult years, to fill in the gaps formed during a destructive childhood?

I believe through God's provision, God can help an adult develop interests to create childlike experiences of delight.

Fifteen years ago, I discovered my non-dominant left hand. One day, I had a plain piece of white paper and a pencil. Listening to Christmas carols, I drew a candle, a musical note, and a bell that were mentioned in the lyrics. Staying with these objects in a way only God can orchestrate, I put them together to draw a child.

What amazed me about my new interest and ability in drawing was that art was my least favorite subject in junior high. I dreaded the required art class each week in seventh and eighth grade. When I was a freshman in college, I took an Introduction to Art class and received a "C", plummeting my strong "B" average.

Now, decades later, I was drawing adorable children with bright big eyes, and colorful clothing. In November 2005, I drew four children and entered my picture in a Christmas card contest sponsored by Mental Health America of Indiana, a group committed to empower those dealing with mental illness. My card was selected and used for the organization's holiday greeting.

Every day for nearly three years I drew children, boys and girls, some carrying candles, hearts and loaves of bread, others standing together holding hands. Drawing each child filled me with delight and brought joy to my heart.

My mother regarded the use of crayons a waste of time, hiding the  battered shoe box of broken crayons on the top shelf of the coat closet. Because she brought out the box only a few times each year, I did not have opportunities when I was growing up to experience delight through that common, childlike creative expression.

God resurrected my little-used left hand and through several years of drawing, enabled me to experience delight that I missed growing up.

Prayer: We are told "with God all things are possible". God, I am an example of your power to bring forth abilities in my hand that were meant to be, but not encouraged. Thank you for generosity of care that enabled me to greet the self you created me to be - left-handed - and to bring delight drawing children and other objects. Come to others who may also need resurrection of self to bring fullness of living. All things are possible in you.  Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Finding Silence in A Crowd of People

I have difficulty finding silence for prayer or reflection. When I am home alone, I hear cracks and creaks from the house that are usually masked by activity. Birds sing outside my window and Lucy, the cat, who is usually curled in my lap when I attempt to find quiet, purrs and squeaks her form of "meow".

When I am driving, I listen to programs on National Public Radio. However, when I turn off the radio, seeking quiet, I hear cars around me. The hum of the car motor, the sound of the wind, a car's horn all penetrate the silence I desire.

Even swimming, when I hope for quiet, my reverie is disturbed by the sound of bubbles coming from breaths I take, by the amplified voice of the water aerobics instructor teaching a class, or water lapping against my body from another swimmer sharing my lane.

Occasionally I take walks in the woods at Conner Prairie or Ritchie Woods, a park in Fishers. Hoping to find quiet away from the noise of everyday life, I hear branches falling, tiny animals scurrying around, or birds singing.

Jesus regularly sought moments when he could go away, find silence and restore his soul. I know the importance of silence, I have trouble finding it ... until two Sundays ago, when I was sitting in church. Finding a pocket of silence in a sanctuary filled with over two hundred people astonished me.

There was a designated time during the order of worship for silent confession that lased for several minutes. No one sneezed or coughed, the children were quiet and I could finally absorb depths of quiet for which I'd been searching. Breathing deeply the silence for which my soul craved, was restorative.

When the pastor "intruded" with a summons to pray, my soul felt cleansed. I was ready to participate in the remaining parts of the service.

Realizing I would again find moments of silence in church the following Sunday brought joy to my heart. Who would think being in the same room as a large group of people I could find silence?

Prayer: God, sometimes we really have to search to find places of quiet where we can rest in you. Bring silence to our hearts so we can hear your voice and restore our weary souls, even while our surroundings are filled with noise. Help us become aware of pockets of silence that flow in the clatter of  everyday life, where we can breathe deeply and find refreshment and renewal. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Praying with Gratitude, Hope and Trust

Mark 11:24 - For this reason I tell you: When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it and you will be given whatever you ask for.

Recently, I attended a worship service prior to presenting a workshop during the Sunday school hour. The scripture for the message was Mark11:24. Jesus' words about prayer are in response to Peter's observation of a dead fig tree that Jesus cursed the day before returning from Bethany.

The pastor illustrated the scripture by telling the story of a young couple he was counseling prior to marriage. He asked the couple how they met. The future wife said that she dated many men through the years, but none were what she desired in a husband. She was discouraged to think she might never get married. One day, however, she purchased a man's suit and hung it in her closet as if she had a husband who could wear the suit to work.

Time passed and the woman met a man while on a business trip. The two dated and became engaged. Interestingly, her future husband was the same size as the suit she purchased months earlier. Her belief and hope in securing a husband were expressed tangibly by a suit in her closet.

Listening carefully to the story, I recalled how I prayed each day. My prayers were usually phrased, "God, I ask healing for ___," or "God, help Sarah travel safely to work."

My workshop went well, but driving home later that morning, Jesus' words kept returning: "When you pray, and ask for something, believe that you have received it and you will be given whatever you ask for."

I remembered my dear friend, Rachel, who was diagnosed a few months ago with a life-threatening illness. She received medical care, but was not responding. Praying for Rachel each day, I asked, "God, bring healing to Rachel." As time passed, I felt myself becoming frustrated praying for Rachel, as there was no apparent improvement.

That evening I decided to pray for Rachel using Jesus' example. My prayer changed to "God, I thank you for healing Rachel." At first, these words seemed unnatural. How could I pray for something that had not happened, much less thank God for healing? I decided, however, to persevere with this prayer form.

Rachel's health did not improve, but interestingly, I developed peace in my heart that replaced frustration. Having peace, even in unchanging circumstances was freeing and brought an energy shift. With a new perspective, I found myself able to care for and respond to Rachel with a fresh spirit and renewed encouragement. I was able to offer continued support to her weary family in tangible and spiritual ways. Rachel's condition didn't change, but the way I came to God in prayer did.

Praying for change when circumstances do not, can be frustrating and make us doubt that God hears our prayers. However, I learned that praying with gratitude means I have hope, faith and trust in God. God can bring a shift in my heart so that I can be present to those whose circumstances cannot change or in myself with whatever I am dealing.

Many times we pray about things that never change. Those we love get sick and cannot recover or recover in ways that limit quality of life. People about whom we care switch jobs or break relationships or make unhealthy decisions. These circumstances may not change. What I do believe this scripture is teaching is that when we pray with gratitude, thanking God for what has not yet happened, God equips us with strength to persevere with constant assurance of companionship. Then we can say because of our faith, trust and hope in God, we can pray with gratitude receiving peace for the way.

Praying with assurance that God is in every circumstance deepens my dependency on God and binds me closer to God, whom I love dearly with increasing trust, hope, belief and gratitude.

Prayer: God, we know you hear all of our prayers. Prayer doesn't always bring the change we desire. However, when we come to you praying with trust, hope, belief and gratitude the change that occurs in our hearts can bring the peace we desire. Amen.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Strength to Stand

Approaching the hospital chapel, I heard sobbing and coughing when I walked by. Opening the door, I saw a large woman kneeling, her body draped over the burgundy seat of the chair.

"Hi, my name is Jacquie. May I help you?"

She looked up gasping for air, revealing a tear-stained face, unable to answer my question. Sitting on the floor so we could have eye-contact, I put my hand on her shoulder.

"Is that walker yours?" I asked noting a walker with a black seat to the left of her chair.

She nodded her head affirmatively.

I noticed she had bandages wrapped around her elbows indicating possible blood draws for lab work. Her pale, blue top was worn and her coat wrapped around her feet like a cushion.

"How can I help you?" I asked.

Slowly she connected air support and vocal cord vibration to reply weakly.

"I came from a woman's shelter. People gave me money so I could buy groceries. I put my food in the refrigerator on the second floor last night, and when I got up this morning to eat, everything was gone. I can't go back there. People steal my food. I eat a special diet and no one understands my food."

Handing her a box of Kleenex, she dried her tears and collected her thoughts. She described men taking advantage of her, no place to go and no money. "I came in here because I needed quiet and I can pray."

Encouraging her connection to God, I asked if I could pray.

"Yes, " she replied eagerly.

"Do you have a Bible?" I asked.

"No," she said.

I went to the closet and got one of the Gideon Bibles kept to give patients and families. I also grabbed one of the small white shells used for infant baptism, wanting to offer a tangible reminder of God's presence for her to touch.

Her favorite scripture was the twenty-third psalm. We read these words together from her new Bible.

"Before I pray, I want to give you this shell. You can see the different colors, feel the ridges, sharp places, and identify shapes. Keep this in your pocket. You can touch the shell as a reminder God is with you."

"I like that." She smiled, reaching for her coat, finding a pocket.

Much more composed that when I first found her, I said, "I'll bless the Bible and then pray."

Asking God to add insight and meaning when she read, I felt her hands cover mine holding the Bible. She continued in close contact while I prayed for her to be aware of the great love God had for her. I prayed for peace in her circumstances and for guidance to help find a safe place to live.

When I finished, she asked me to write something in her Bible. "In my family, we always write in books we give."

I put her name in the back where there were blank pages and added a few words to direct her reading. Signing my name, "Love your friend, Jacquie", reminded me we are all God's children living in the kingdom.

Slowly she had strength to stand. She grabbed the walker and told me she hadn't eaten for two days. I mentioned the cafeteria down the hall, and together we left the chapel, restored and renewed to break bread.

We ate lunch and talked until the hospital social worker, summoned by one of the chaplains, appeared to assist with names and information of agencies to help with housing, financial and medical needs.

I left the cafeteria filled with God's presence, grateful for a serendipitous encounter in a hospital chapel, on Tuesday, the day I volunteer in the chaplain department at IU North Hospital.