Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Repeat Post from Chautauqua

Mike and I are attending the Chautauqua Institute in western New York this week where we are teaching. Mike's class is "Moving Beyond Fundamentalism" and my class is "Praying with Paint, Paper and Pen."

We enjoy our time on the lake, listening to lectures, hearing concerts, watching ballet and attending daily worship.

Last year I shared my experience listening to Rev. Allan Boesak, an activist born in South Africa, currently teaching at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University, both in Indianapolis.

I quoted part of a sermon he gave which follows:

     "He introduced the idea of prophetic faithfulness that interrupts the flow of evil for the reality of truth in the reign of God. He continued, 'God wills peace, justice and wholeness.'"

Boesak challenged the congregation. "Don't worry if you can't save the world. Every act of compassion and justice, every embrace of one who is despised, saves one life."

I pray my actions make the face of Christ shine as Rev. Boesak concluded happens when we take the time for one life.

My original post occurred on August 21, 2014. Image by Isabelle Kroeker Photography. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pause - to cease or suspend an action temporarily; a temporary stop in action or speech.

Back in the fifties, there was an advertisement for Coca-Cola showing a man in a business suit holding a bottle of the drink. The caption said, "At 4 p.m. the pause that refreshes." The slogan, "the pause that refreshes" became popular, suggesting that stopping or pausing for a drink of ice-cold Coca-Cola at any time of the day can offer refreshment.

Pauses also occur when we are in conversations and need a moment or two to collect our thoughts and think of a word we want to say. The pause button on our remote enables us to stop of movie or a recorded show to get a snack, use the bathroom or get up and stretch.

Focusing on the word - pause - during the past two days enabled me to find value in a word that might not quite define our fast-paced world of instant communication. For example, I needed a small bookcase for my office. Driving through our neighborhood, I stopped at a garage sale, spotting a bookcase before I got out of my car. I reached in my purse to pay, chatting with the mother and daughter who were in charge.

They explained how many friends and family members made donations that filled the garage. The mother added all of the sales were being used to finance and adoption for her daughter who had lost four babies. While she helped me carry the bookcase to my car, the mother explained the various options available for adoption locally and internationally. We stopped outside my car as the mother detailed her daughter's anguish with infertility.

Driving away, I realized that pausing added meaning to my purchase, gave me a lot more information than I expected when I walked the driveway to the sale.

Then I went to visit my friend, Donna. When I arrived, she had a bouquet of daisies and pink roses picked from her yard ready for me to take home. Donna paused during her busy day to pick a bunch of flowers that speak of her compassion and care for the challenges I face. Donna set aside time from preparing for a niece's baby shower, and caring for her daughter, Katie, who is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, to send a grouping of love my way.

Continuing along that Saturday morning after swimming, I stopped by one of my favorite quilt stores in Nora, Quilts Plus. Being the only customer, the two employees welcomed me into their conversation about the valedictorian at one of the large Indianapolis high schools who is  homeless. Amazed at the witness of resilience to persevere despite horrible circumstances, we concluded this young lady will be an inspiration as she goes to college and pursues a career path.

At the cash register, the employee proceeded to tell me the story of one of her adopted children finding her birth mother. Pausing to listen to the complications and joys of the discovery, I learned about implications I'd only ready about in the newspaper or magazines.

Once again, pausing with people most of whom I didn't know, opened a window into their souls that tapped compassion in my heart.

Jesus modeled pausing. When people came to Jesus seeking healing and advice, he patiently responded to each one. He could have said, "I need to go _____;" "I'm too busy;" "I need to rest." Instead, he paused at each encounter, offering God's presence through his attentive listening.

Pausing does take time, extra time. I look at what I gained at the garage sale and the quilt store by pausing and listening, adding depth and meaning to each experience.

Now when I look at my bookcase or drive by the house where the garage sale occurred, I can bring the couple to God as they await a child. When I used the fabric purchased at Quilts Plus, I remember the homeless valedictorian and the employee whose daughter's knowledge of her birth mother added a new dimension to their relationship.

Being the recipient of Donna's pause brings a smile to my face and comfort to my heart when I see the vase of daisies and roses on my kitchen table.

Take a moment today and pause ----- what happens? Become aware how you are the beneficiary of someone else's pauses.

Prayer: God, you pause frequently to hear our prayers and receive our praise. Fill us with patience to pause at each encounter for we are meeting those who are made in your image. Amen.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Early Morning Quiet

One morning I was sitting at my desk watching the sun rise and wrote the following poem:

Early morning quiet,
The sun rises to begin a new day.
The same sun that rose
When God said, "Let there be light."

The present connects with the past.

Adam and Eve saw the same sun I see today. So did -

The sun links me to Adam and Eve,
and all humanity created since my birth.

Gather all these person,
They are a photo gallery of the
family of God living in me.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Art Matters

Life's deepest wounds often leave us with no words. Those wounds shove feelings and memories into hard-to-reach places in our hearts, but no words. Without words, how do we process those wounds? When we can't speak our pain, how do we find healing?

Through art.

Art matters.

I believe art has the power to tap into those deep, hidden places and lure the experiences out so we can examine them, grow and with God's help, heal.

Two years ago my parents died four days apart. My family had two funerals in four days. My father died first, then my mother stopped eating and joined her husband the afternoon of his funeral.

My parents were beloved by their friends at work and church, by neighbors and other acquaintances. However, these people only knew one side of their life and not the childhood I experienced growing up in an abusive home.

I was in a swirl of emotions following their deaths. Reading a few books on grief added more confusion. My thoughts didn't fit into anything I read as the author referred to the reader's "beloved family member," or "cherished mother."

Seeking the counsel of pastors, therapists, friends whose parents had died and even a grief counselor did not help clear the fog in which my brain dwelled as I tried to resolve who they were to me with comments I heard over and over at the funeral home about how wonderful they were.

I always wanted to study art and writing. Within a few months of my parents' passing, I used my inheritance to begin taking classes in both subjects under the teaching of two strong Christian women.

Kandi, my young art teacher, took me under her wing as we began to draw objects looking at shape and value. My writing coach, Ann, a seasoned author whose first two books I read, introduced a new path to me of extracting deep wounds buried decades ago, through creative instruction. Her small writing assignments brought into the open anger, frustration, abandonment and injustice - words that were foreign to me, but started to give form and expression to my chaos.

I wrote about my early life and sent my work to Ann, who read each piece with the same care as if she were editing a prize-winning novel, receiving all of the ugliness of the past without judgment or questioning. The process was helping me put words to my wounds and address my pain. I would see Ann on Thursdays, and Kandi on Tuesdays, as well as a counselor on Monday. That trio formed a powerful combination for my healing.

Kandi suggested one day I take the sympathy cards I received - over 100 - and tear them into little pieces so we could make paper, which we did. After the paper dried, I was left with lots of unused torn snippets of cards. Most pieces had a word on them, whether handwritten or printed on the original card. I used the pieces to make even more art. I sewed together leftover scraps into a "paper quilt" putting into action Jesus' words to the disciples following the feeding of the thousands to "gather the pieces and let nothing be wasted."

I brought my art projects to show Ann, and she noted all the words and phrases remaining on the scraps, separated from their original messages. She suggested I create "found poems" using words found on these pieces and working them into a new message of my own. Below is one of my found poems:

                   Someone will keep your troubled heart,
                   Holding it close, with peace coming during a difficult time.
                   Words are inadequate to express concern and sympathy
                   When deepest comfort is needed for the heart.
                   Jesus reminds us, "I give unto you peace. Let not your heart be troubled."

Working with these hard, shriveled remains of sympathy cards to patch together my pain into a new form while writing "found poems" from remnants of verses from the cards, I felt my heart eventually arrive at a place of peace regarding my parents that I had not felt for decades.

The making of paper and a "paper quilt" tapped into those hidden places and pulled things to the surface so I could examine them, put words to them, and find healing.

Art and writing unexpectedly gave form to my loss, my past, and brought healing to my heart.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

A few years ago one of my daughters asked how often Mike and I talked during the year we saw each other only on weekends. She was astonished when I replied, "We never spoke from Sunday to Friday. We wrote letters."

The Age of Letter Writing

I explained that before cell phones, long-distance calling was expensive. Rates were cheaper after 9 p.m. and before 8 a.m. Phone calls were only for emergencies or conveying information, rarely for pleasure. Even today when we speak with Sarah and Anna, I appreciate hearing their voices as much as the conversation. The pleasure and joy of "hearing someone's voice" has perhaps lost its value with texting and email communication.

Letters offer a permanent record of affection, information, encouragement and love. For example, my friend, Annabel, and her husband were members of Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis, where Mike served from 1983 to 1989. Annabel, who will soon be 100, became a surrogate mother to me. She encouraged my writing and affirmed me as a young mother.

During my pregnancy with Anna, Annabel frequently brought muffins or vegetables to supplement our meals.

Letters from My Mentor

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes in June, 1989, Annabel and I began a regular correspondence. After our move, I shared our family activities, and often asked questions related to raising children, managing my time or my walk with God. Interestingly, when we moved to Fishers, and visited often in person, we continued to correspond. The stack of letters and cards I have saved accumulated over 28 years is a treasured keepsake of shared memories, advice, and encouragement from someone who loved and cared for me deeply.

When I visited Annabel before Mother's Day, I took all of her letters and cards. We read through many of her thoughts and looked at the stationery she chose reflecting her passion for human rights, equality, nature, wildlife preservation, and reconciliation. Sitting side by side on her couch, she cried, realizing the importance her letters had in my life.

I've saved letters Sarah wrote to Anna from church camp and from when Sarah worked at Culver Academy Summer School and Camp during summer breaks from college. These letters are cherished and rest in a box of memorabilia.

A little pencil in God's hand - the Walking Letter

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:3 - "You show that you are a letter from Christ ... written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts." These words can be interpreted to mean that all who love and serve God are "walking letters," writing each day the ways in which we script our faith.

Mother Teresa was interviewed in the December 4, 1989, issue of TIME magazine. When asked to describe the nature of her work with the poor she replied, "I don't claim anything of the work I do. It is his (God's) work. I am like a pencil in his hand. That is all. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used."

Jesus was more like Mother Teresa's description of her work. Jesus was a pencil in God's hand, writing how to live and love in the kingdom; whereas Paul used letters, some of which were penned in prison to speak to believers on various topics related to life in the church.

The Power of Writing by Hand

A few years ago a series of articles was published about the science of writing things by hand. The research indicated that our brains work differently when we form letters with a hand-held implement and we learn more effectively than when we type.

Another study found that when pre-school children look at letters of the alphabet, those who practiced writing the letters showed more activation in the visual areas of their brains than those who had practiced letter recognition alone. Writing by hand seems to help lay the neural groundwork for reading.

I write all of the articles for "Gather the Pieces" first, by hand, then I type. I find that ideas flow more from my heart when I hand-write compared to using a computer.

Of course, writing letters takes more time as well as organization to have paper or stationery and pen or pencil available. Recently, a book I purchased at a church rummage sale, Someone Cares - An Encyclopedia of Letter Writing, lists 23 topics for letter writing including letters for keeping in touch; blessing; thank you and appreciation; sympathy and condolence; complaint and employment.

Perhaps you know someone who would appreciate a handwritten note. Letters come from the heart and writing that comes from deep within can give the recipient a permanent record of our love, care and compassion.

Prayer: God, we thank you for the ways we can be expressions of your love to others. As we are pencils in your hand, guide us in tangible ways to let others know how much we care and write a few letters today. Amen.